Saturday, June 14, 2008

George Will and Charles Krauthammer for President and Vice President of the Church of the Marketplace


Charles Krauthammer (News and Observer, 6/01/08) and George Will (News and Observer 5/23/08) should team up and run for President and Vice-President of the Church of the Marketplace! Along the way they may want to brush up on their bible lessons, especially that admonition about not pointing out the splinter in your neighbor's eye before removing the log in your own.

In this case, one of the logs in their eyes is their lack of understanding of science and scientists. Well, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming it is their lack of understanding rather than outright deception that leads them to accuse scientists of being careless, compliant (presumably to the wishes of "the left"), and unscrupulous.

The first principle of science is objectivity, something every scientist learns making their way through a graduate education. This objectivity and a critical skepticism that goes along with it becomes an ingrained part of every good scientist. The scientist wants to understand the natural world, how it works. You don't find out how something works by deciding in advance the way you want things to turn out and then looking for ways to twist the available data to seemingly support your desire.

Yet Will, Krauthammer and other "climate change skeptics" seem eager to do just that. Sitting back in a comfortable office far removed from the messy natural world real climate scientists have to deal with, it is easy to make the science sound not just incomplete or inexact, but downright flimsy. Krauthammer ends a long harangue criticising atmospheric climate models as "entirely speculative." It is, however, the ability of such models to accurately reflect the natural world that has brought us modern jet aircraft, the space shuttle and space station, and a legacy of successful space exploration. When a test pilot guns the throttle of a brand new jet plane for its very first flight, computer models give him the assurance he is not likely to die at the end of the runway.

The real climate scientists undoubtedly laugh and cry at the purported mistakes or omissions in their studies and conclusions repeatedly and erroneously pointed out by climate change critics (see Where do these hopeful skeptics get the idea that they are the only ones trying to think of alternative explanations like a warming sun or natural sources of greenhouse gases? The real climate scientists make a living out of trying to find these alternatives, they have thought of these and many others and tested each one against the reality of their data.

Are Krauthammer and Will, and the marketplace experts and fossil fuel advocates eager to preserve the status quo of the automotive and oil and coal industries also expert climate scientists? Do they bring the unbiased eye of the trained scientist and find chinks in the body of climate change evidence the professionals have somehow missed? Who would you trust if you really wanted to know what is going on?

Finally, dredging up the doubt-filled claims of a few hyper-critical scientists cannot invalidate the reviewed findings of professional scientific organizations and the mass of peer-reviewed publications used to back up their consensus statements. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the American Meteorological Society, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change all agree burning fossil fuels is increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere, that this rising CO2 is causing global warming, and that this global warming is very likely to cause a cascading chain of climate changes, many of which are likely to cause increased human suffering, especially among the poorer peoples of the world.

Krauthammer and Will may legitimately debate what we collectively decide to do to limit future climate changes, how we will obtain and use energy. I agree with Krauthammer, for example, that the nuclear option bears careful consideration as a stopgap on our way to developing more renewable energy sources. And deciding on a carbon tax or a cap and trade system is a decision to be made by all of us and our elected representatives. Science cannot make these decision, only inform them.

But Krauthammer and Will and other skeptics cross the line into dangerous territory when they question scientists who have spent careers learning about the atmosphere. Challenging the science simply because it indicates that your cherished energy sources, large cars, and wasteful habits will likely cause all of us future havoc is a recipe for a return to the dark ages. We cannot afford to let self-interests and beliefs overrule science.

We all need to wake up!