Sunday, February 12, 2012
The Real Hoax Behind Global Warming
The beginning of the end for the deniers and their enormously wealthy and powerful patrons arrived quietly in 2009 when scientists calculated our atmosphere's CCC or climate carrying capacity. They worked out the maximum atmospheric CO2 we could sustain without probably sending our biosphere straight through the 2C limit. That's not the safe limit, it's not a limit we can live with, it's the maximum limit we must stay below before beginning to drop atmospheric carbon levels until they're below 350 parts per million, ppm. Independent teams came at the CCC figure in different ways but arrived at a remarkably similar figure of 565 gigatons of CO2 as the remaining capacity. 565 gigatons more and we're at our CCC.
This calculation set the cat among the pigeons. It meant the debate could move beyond abstract and all but meaningless emission reduction targets of some percent or another by some distant year or another. The Germans and others argued the remaining capacity should be allocated to nations by population. After all the atmosphere belongs to no one and, hence, everyone, no? The developed world wasn't keen on that at all because an equitable sharing would leave them having to virtually decarbonize their economies and their societies almost overnight. Blah, blah, blah - and the predictable (and in some corners, desired) deadlock ensued.
But the CCC factor popped up again in a remarkable new way early this year. Some bright lights had compared the magic 565 number to the CO2 emissions values of existing known oil reserves, the stuff Big Oil is sitting on. What they found was that burning the remaining oil reserves would add 2,800 gigatons of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, five times the maximum remaining capacity.
And so the other shoe drops. Big Oil is sitting on oil reserves the lion's share of which will have to be left in the ground if our grandkids are going to stand much chance of ever seeing grandkids of their own.
So now let us return to the denialist community and take a closer look at these characters. The denialists are a motley crew of shills, hacks and whack jobs sprinkled with a thin and stale layer of actual scientists or former scientists of sorts. I use "denialists" rather than "deniers" because it has evolved into something of a refined art form.
The denialists carry out a variety of functions that share one trait - none of them is grounded in actual science. Their objective is to undermine public confidence in climate change science and to give the frightened and gullible false assurance. Some contrive non-carbon emission explanations for the current warming (i.e. the "sunspot" brigade). Others deny the fact of warming all together. A sub-species maintain the Earth is actually cooling. Others still allege conspiracies and hoaxes supposedly rampant through the scientific community. Some maintain that there exists somewhere (curiously never specified quite where) a mountain of scientific research that refutes mainstream climate science and, hence, the "science isn't settled." Others argue it's all a Socialist plot to transfer enormous wealth out of the hands of those who earned it and into the grubby mitts of the undeserving Third Worlders. It goes on and on.
How to decide? That's actually pretty easy when you even briefly consider the wildly different approaches taken by the climate science community and the denialist community.
It should be a given that anthropogenic global warming is a question of science. It involves geology, hydrology, physics, math, biology, zoology, atmospherics, chemistry - all that stuff you probably hated in high school. It's a scientific question, plain and simple, albeit the question itself is complex and challenging. Ever since man stopped sharing caves with dinosaurs, you know - six thousand years ago, we have focused on separating wheat from chaff. This often involved a scientific technique - trial and error. Over centuries this sort of approach evolved into what we today call the "scientific method." I look into a question. I run a bunch of tests. I record results (data). From the data I draw conclusions, even theories sometimes. Then I present my findings, my genius to my adoring and worshipful colleagues. Now, to be taken seriously, I must also reveal my research, how I came to be such a genius. I must do this so that others can replicate my research and come up with their own data that will confirm or refute my conclusions. It's called "peer review." Consider it the opposite of bluffing.
The climate science community works on the scientific method. But what of the denialist community? If they're right, the easiest and surest avenue for them is also the scientific method. Take the research, take the supporting data and simply show where it's wrong. Blow holes in it. That's the easiest and surest way but only if they genuinely believe the science is wrong. If this really is a hoax it'll unravel like a three-dollar sweater. But they don't have any interest in the scientific method. No, they're happier with something remarkably akin to the "legal method."
The legal method doesn't always get at the truth. O.J. walked, didn't he? But it is a terrific vehicle for obscuring truth and delaying outcomes. Any experienced civil litigator can attest to these things. And if you've watched even a few cop shows, you know how far some people get by simply denying everything. It's the one place where "the dog ate my homework" actually has legs.
The denialists get to deny everything. They get to treat proven stuff as unproven - because they say so. They don't have to disprove it, they just have to deny it in ways that will convince enough people to produce results.
Never underestimate the intrinsic value of delay. Sometimes the delay factor is enough to decide the outcome of a case. Rich parties sometimes get to run weak adversaries into the ground, broke. (sorry, you only get as much justice as you can afford) Problem solved. In other circumstances delay affords a welcome postponement of a day of reckoning. It can be a way to buy valuable time to do or keep doing things the outcome of the case could otherwise stop.
The denialist community uses the legal approach but with one added and invaluable advantage - no judge. A judge would narrow the question to be decided, evaluate evidence according to relevance, and keep the case moving toward resolution. But there's no judge in the denialists' case which means, like the movie Groundhog Day, every day is a fresh repeat of all the days before it. Like the snake oil salesman of the medicine show, it just goes on from town to town.
If you're still in doubt, let's play "follow the money." A common denialist claim is that scientists keep running bogus research in order to reap the bounty of government grants. They're in it for the easy dough. You believe that? Just how much do you think a research scientists takes in? It's amazing what people will do for a high-5, low-6 figure income.
But why not follow the money on the denialist side. That's where the interesting stuff is. Check out the leading denialists and explore how much funding they receive, directly and indirectly, from the fossil fuelers and associated interests.
Then check out the US Congress. Take a look at how much each congressman gets from the energy industry and associated interests. Call that X. Then look at how much they get from the climate science community. Call that Y. Now deduct Y from X and what do you have? Surprise, it's still X.
But there's an even bigger money telltale in all this and it goes back to the 565 versus 2,800 gigaton issue. Big Oil is said to be sitting on reserves equivalent to 2,800 gigatons of CO2 emissions. Yet that's more than 2,200 gigatons over the supposedly safe limits. That means Big Oil should be leaving almost four out of five barrels of its reserves in the ground, permanently.
What are those reserves worth today? Trillions of dollars. So what is four fifths of that worth? Still trillions of dollars. That is what's at stake for Big Oil, almost. But there's more. If people come to realize that we can't use most of that oil, Big Oil finds itself with a glut of oil on its hands. And, with that, the per-barrel price plummets along with Big Oil's share price. Oh dear. That's why a group of leading British investment, science and political types wrote the governor of the Bank of England warning that oil reserves are the new "sub-prime" assets.
So here's the thing. Why is Big Oil responding to what is virtually an existential threat with a clown car full of shills, hacks and whack jobs? Why isn't Big Oil spending tens of billions of dollars on its own peer-reviewable research to disprove the climate science community. Why isn't it fighting back in the scientific method forum, the one place where, if the science community is wrong, it can score a decisive victory, safeguard world oil prices and ensure the future of all those massive oil reserves? Sometimes what's not happening speaks louder than what is.
If Big Oil isn't pouring tens of billions of dollars into research to dispel the powerful consensus of the climate science community, you're left to draw just one conclusion. Big Oil knows the climate scientists have it right.
If Big Oil knows the climate science community is right, what's with all those guys with the baggy pants, long shoes and bright red noses, the denialists? Again there's just one conclusion. They're a distraction, a way to muddy the waters of public opinion and a great way for Big Oil and its political minions to buy time and forestall the day of reckoning. And that alone is worth countless billions to the bottom line.
By now you should be getting an "us and them" sort of feeling about this. You probably should be getting mad about this. The fossil fuelers are at war, at war with humanity, in a war they cannot win. So what they're going to do is to make this as bloody as possible, to drag this out for as long as they can. The only side delay harms is ours, humanity's.
What we need now is a "put up or shut up" event. If the fossil fuelers can't win their case in the scientific method forum, they must shut the hell up. In the meantime we are entitled, even prudent, to consider the fossil fuelers to be lying their asses off, utterly indifferent to the harm they're causing us. And it is at this point that we're entitled to turn to our elected representatives to, well, represent us for a change. Let's get these issues settled, let's use our sovereign powers to find out if there's a petro-con game being played, one that will have serious consequences for us down the road if it's not stopped soon.
What this post lays out is, I believe, a compelling prima facie case for Big Oil and the rest of the fossil fuelers to answer. Isn't it time your political leaders saw to it they did?
Update - As with a previous post, I have sent this via e-mail to the offices of Bob Rae. I will post any response he may provide.