The Global Warming Problem

Here is a guest post by LEVI, a regular commenter on this blog.

There’s a lot of rhetoric floating around regarding climate change and the solutions being proposed to address the problem.  I wrote this piece to give readers a starting point from which to consider the problem and the mitigation programs under consideration.

This article is meant to provide a brief discussion of Climate Change and the two major proposals being advanced in the US congress.  It is meant to provide a starting point for those trying to understand the global warming problem and the two proposals under serious consideration as possible solutions.  The intricacies and likely effectiveness of the respective proposals are beyond the scope of this writing

Global warming is a reality and the consensus of every major scientific academy and society in the world is that global warming is being accelerated by human production of Green House Gasses (GHG’s), primarily carbon dioxide.  GHGs are a by-product of fossil fuel combustion (petroleum, coal and natural gas).  These gasses are emitted into the atmosphere and act like a green house for the entire planet, preventing energy from being reflected away from the earth.  This results in rising global temperatures. 

Data models suggest that global temperature may rise as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.  Although this doesn’t sound like much from the perspective of the thermostat in your living room, such a change will result in major economic, meteorological and environmental effects.  The scientific and economic consensus is that these effects will have a detrimental impact on global economies and many species of life on the planet.  Scientists and world leaders agree that we need to do something to curtail global warming or we may face devastating environmental and economic consequences by the end of this century.   

The two solutions that have been discussed in the US Congress are the imposition of a carbon tax or implementation of a cap & trade system.  A carbon tax would tax the source of the GHG’s at some point in the supply chain.  Presumably, the revenues generated by the tax would be used to develop cleaner energy sources or technologies to “clean up” the emissions associated with fossil fuels.  The carbon tax has the advantage of being relatively simple to administrate.  We know how much GHG’s are emitted by burning particular fuels.  As such, the tax could be imposed anywhere between the well-head or mine and the final consumer.  The problem with a flat carbon tax is that it will be passed on to the consumer and therefore tends to be regressive in that it impacts lower income earners more severely.  Further, a tax does not impose any hard cap on emissions.  As such, an tax on green house gasses may not serve to actually reduce emissions.   

A Cap & Trade system by comparison would set a GHG reduction target for major GHG emitters ( such as power plants and large industries like steel, glass and concrete) to be accomplished by a certain date.  This is the CAP portion of cap & trade.  Emitters would then be required to reduce their emissions by a certain percentage over time. The specific reduction target for each emitter would be established by reference to a baseline.  If the EU (European Union) model is followed, at the beginning of the program, large emitters would be granted a number of carbon credits (equivalent to 1 ton of Co2) equivalent to their baseline GHG production.  Emitters could also earn credits by funding approved carbon reduction projects.  Some examples include developing carbon sinks through re-forestation, sequestration projects or development of non-fossil fuel energy sources.  The idea is to establish a carbon credit trading system that allows emitters to buy or sell carbon credits on an exchange.  This is the Trade portion of cap & trade.  To the extent that emitters fail to meet their Cap, they could be faced with having to pay large fines or having to buy carbon credits on the open market sufficient to bring them into compliance.  Cap & Trade is premised on the idea that the market will reward those who develop clean energy technologies or otherwise reduce their GHG output and penalize those who don’t.                     

The proposed solutions above are discussed in their simplest terms and this article is by no means meant to be a comprehensive discussion of the intricacies or merits of either proposal.  That said, the ultimate conclusion is that both will result in higher energy costs to the consumer.     

The problem we face as a country and a planet is the conflict between doing the right thing by reducing global GHG emissions and coming to terms with fact that doing so will result in higher energy prices and tend to reduce our standard of living, at least in the short term.  As we are all painfully aware, higher energy prices impact virtually every aspect of the economy and result in higher costs of production.  These costs are ultimately passed on to the consumer.  These consequences are not likely to be politically popular with industrial concerns or consumers.  Addressing global warming creates a unique problem from a political perspective as the real impact of our current behaviors may not be realized for years.  Furthermore, the impact of reducing emissions in this country may have little or no impact if other major producers don’t follow suit.  As such, the problem really calls out for a global solution.  Unfortunately, barring an imminent catastrophe, it seems probable that the US and other major producers of GHGs lack the political will to change their behavior sufficiently to have a major impact the problem.  It is our duty as citizens of the world to support our political representatives such that they have courage to enact a meaningful GHG reduction program that can be emulated by and participated in by the rest of the world.

The Global Warming Problem

Science is god

Yes, yes, yes! I’ve had a revelation of sorts. It’s based on one core concept: that the progress we’ve made in this world is based almost solely on science. Literally, and I mean that in the literal sense, everything we have and enjoy and cherish is given to us by science. 2/3 of your kids would be dead without science. We wouldn’t have the internet or medicine or mobile phones or DVDs to watch. We wouldn’t live in nice little neighborhoods with unlocked doors. Science has pulled us out of the muck and given us the chance to be civilized and socialized. It’s the most important thing in the world.

Yes, of course, science if flawed. It’s wrong a lot and it’s political and manned by humans so as fallible as all of us are. But it is science itself which finds and fixes the errors and scientists and their students who invent the things that become the life-enriching advances of the future. Science, as Carl Sagan said, is a candle in the dark.

And yet this most proven and successful enterprise in human history, that provides the very foundation of all that we do, giving us literally life itself, is the enemy to some! And to others it is merely just one other view, equal to all other views, including the uninformed ravings of astrologers and clergymen.

Science is under attack by people with an agenda that is mystical in nature. They are religious people, “New Age” people, “woo” medicine peddlers and other op-ed nut cases. They demean science and applaud quackery and they lead us away from the mindset which has given us everything we have.

Atheism is the natural worldview of the scientific mind. Oh, I know, many great scientists were theists. Religion is the last stand of mysticism and superstition in human psychology. But it’s not turtles all the way down, we are not special creatures destined to be cuddled by a friendly superbeing in heavenly comfort and nothing lasts forever, not even the universe. It is incredibly arrogant to think that we alone are eternal and happily reunited with our loved ones forever. It’s nonsense. There is no spoon. It is quite peaceful once you accept it.

Be here now.

Science is god

Palin and McCain continue to be dumb

These people clearly can not be trusted with governance in the nation’s highest office. They’re too stupid or they hire people that are too stupid and either way, they’re fucked.

She vowed – as she has many times — that if she and running mate John McCain are elected, they will nix such fat that’s tacked onto budget bills by lawmakers eager to win points back home– projects that “really don’t make a whole lot of sense” and have “little or nothing to do with the public good. . . things like fruit fly research in Paris, France.”

“I kid you not,” she declared with a chuckle.

First of all, these retards continue to act as if France is anything but a major ally of the US. The US won our revolutionary war due to France. Shut the fuck up with this France bullshit.

But far more importantly, anyone with any knowledge of biology can tell you the important role that the fruit fly has played. The research she is denigrating here is highly useful:

One problem: the research she chose to highlight as a waste of cash just happens to have borne some, well, fruit. And for special needs kids, no less. Among such projects: a 2007 University of North Carolina study that researchers said might be key to better understanding the root of autism spectrum disorders.

The quotes are from Scientific American which goes on to list McCain’s own desperate attempts to paint other scientific research and science education as wasteful.

I’m anti-pork. I think earmarks are a stupid way to do things. We should fix that system, no question about it. But it is un-fucking-believable that Palin/McCain choose to attack those few and inexpensive earmarks that actually make sense. Palin lobbied for the bridge to nowhere, for Christ’s sake. She should shut her mouth before she prematurely ends her career. Oh wait, Republicans celebrate ignorance and stupidity, she’s gonna be a superstar!

Sorry, I’m venting a bit, but the desperate weenies who are clinging to God, guns and John McCain annoy me.

Palin and McCain continue to be dumb

The War on Science

The folks at Effect Measure have a great post on the war on science and they make a very tangible point:

The attack on the science has two components. The first is the most obvious: to use what appear to be scientific arguments to cast doubt on what the scientific community deems valid arguments about climate change. But the second may be the most important: to do it in a way that casts aspersions on all kinds of scientific argument. The attackers don’t care if they are accused of political or economic bias in making their own scientific arguments because one of their objectives is to establish a covert narrative that says science is always biased and tainted by political corruption. The aim is to destroy the moral authority of science, not its factual basis. They then erect a new standard based on economic promise and the virtues of “progress” and modernity.

I’ve said before that scientists tend to be liberals. It’s just a fact, just like big business guys tend to be conservatives. I don’t think either side needs to apologize for this. But the Right Wing hates this because science does hold a special place in our debates. You can’t argue about issues like climate change, embryonic stem cell research or natural selection without involving science and the fact that all the scientists are on the Left makes it seem, to some, that “science” is just a political tactic to win debates. The above quoted paragraph makes quite clear how the Right Wing has chosen to fight this: just claim that all science is biased!

I interviewed a particle physicist lately (which I will soon post over at Slacker Astronomy) and he said, and I quote, “I don’t believe anything.”. He has trained himself as a scientist to not believe things — he either knows or he doesn’t know and “knowing” involves a file cabinet full of data and research. He has purged himself of belief because it is a liability as a scientist.

So, I’m sorry, you sad little Righties. Science is not a tactic and when your beliefs are in opposition with science your beliefs needs to be modified.

The War on Science

A Real Cause of Atheism

After having recently interviewed Ernan McMullin I found this page on writings by Christian scientists. These are the lot that Myers and Dawkins tend to not talk about because they make sense. I still tend to think their theology is silly but at least it doesn’t conflict with scientific principles.

I found this quote interesting from Is Evolution Atheistic? by Dr Denis Alexander:

Evolution itself is not atheistic. A robust Christian theism readily encompasses evolution as an expression of God’s creative actions. But, sadly, there are prominent scientists, like the Harvard sociobiologist E.O.Wilson, who left their earlier Christian experience to become atheists because they faced hostility to evolution. Arguably, attacks by well-meaning Christians on evolution promote rather than counteract atheism.

It makes two great points: 1) Evolution does not at all deny the existence of God; and 2) Ignorant attacks on evolution by well-meaning Christians actually undermines their aims.

A Real Cause of Atheism

The Lolife Podcast No. 75

Here is a very interesting interview I did with Ernan McMullin. He is a fascinating guy who knew Schrodinger and Carl Sagan. He is a priest and he studied theoretical physics. He is currently the O’Hara Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the godfather of a good friend of mine. I blogged about him before in regards to Intelligent Design, which he thinks is nonsense on both scientific and theological grounds. It’s a fairly long but highly interesting interview. Check it out!

Download/Listen (MP3, 01:13:19, 34.4MB)
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The Lolife Podcast No. 75

Why IDiots are idiots

Here’s what we know:

1. 13.73 billion years ago, the universe was created.
2. Somewhere around 4 billion years ago the Earth was created.
3. Around 3 billion years ago, life formed.
4. Life evolved and grew more and more complex and diverse.
5. Today there are millions of species.

The Intelligent Design (ID) movement, exemplified by the movie Expelled, has a problem with #4. They think God mucked around in #4. Science doesn’t have a theory (yet) for how the universe was created (#1). We know exactly what happened milliseconds after the Big Bang, but we don’t know how the Big Bang banged. We don’t have much of a theory about how life was created (although we are making significant progress) (#3). We have really, really good theories of #2 and #4. They are based on hardcore science and have been argued about and tested very thoroughly.

So if you are fervently religious and want to believe that God did #1 and #3, fine, great, have at it. We’ll probably prove you wrong on #3 someday but for #1, God snapping his fingers is as good of theory as any.

But why would you argue with #4? Evolution is obvious. Natural selection is obvious and if you think God is smart then he might think of a way to do things that was clever! He didn’t zap fully formed humans into existence He created a beautiful machine that opened up like a flower over billions of years from which stepped a mind capable of wondering and worshipping. Evolution is a testament to the patience and the brilliance of God. Science is never and could never be at odds with the will of the Creator.

So ID isn’t just bad science, it’s bad theology, it’s bad philosophy, it’s bad everything. It’s especially destructive because it falsely presents itself as being on the side of believers. That is nonsense. True believers are in awe of God’s creation, including the Big Bang, the old earth and natural selection. Science studies God’s creation, it doesn’t oppose it.

Why IDiots are idiots

We need more snobs like PZ

Thank you, micadelic, for one of the most inane analyses I’ve seen of the Expelled issue:

i just wonder why, if mr. pz is so smart, he’s doesn’t realize he was used as part of a pretty clever publicity stunt. expelling him from expelled! and then he rushes to the nearest computer to breathlessly report how he was kicked out. priceless.

pretty funny if you ask me (and i believe in evolution). i just think pz is an insufferable intellectual snob and it’s great to see him get punk’d.

I suppose I should stop being surprised at the things you think…

PZ attempted to see a movie that he was in. The makers of the movie knew he was coming and waited until the last moment to kick him out. (They could have just emailed him and told him he wasn’t welcome.) The “clever publicity stunt” made those tools look like extra special tools when they kicked out PZ and let Dawkins in! Oops, sorry, didn’t recognize the most recognizable atheist in the world (who is also in the film!). PZ’s reporting of the incident was hilarious and the press associated with the incident was 100% critical and negative towards the movie. Oh, yes, very clever.

I’ve met PZ and he is a very humble and very nice person. He is not a “snob” in the slightest. What he is is extremely knowledgeable about this issue — evolution — and he is constantly defending generally accepted science against people who don’t know a single fucking thing about it. Yes, I suppose one can seem like a snob when you are an expert on a subject and you are debating self-righteous idiots without a clue WTF they are talking about.

The core issue here is very interesting — how the Right pretends to be anti-intellectual. Anti-intellectualism is an agenda of elevating mediocrity and small-minded thinking while denigrating education and intelligence. It’s completely nuts and it gets us incompetent leadership like George W. Bush — a “regular guy” completely devoid of the skills necessary to do his job.

We need a hell of a lot more “intellectual snobs” and a lot less influence by ignorant people too lazy to be intellectually engaged with the world.

We need more snobs like PZ

PZ slices/dices

PZ has another great post slicing and dicing ignorant creationists.

You should read the whole thing but here is a humorous little quote:

Even if physicist discovered that the Big Bang was a result of a cataclysmic battle between Odin and a gang of frost giants, it would not perturb our understanding of life’s history here. It would make the cosmologists freak out, which would be fun, and it would shape our philosophical understanding of our presence here, but evolution is built on evidence on this planet, evidence that will not go away whatever the physicists discover about events 14 billion years ago.

It is amazing that none of the IDiots take on the very specific points that PZ makes in this post. Their arguments are really weak and easily refuted and yet the believers just ignore ideas that undermine their weird little superstitions.

PZ slices/dices