Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Frosty Friday at the UN

I have to admit that global warming is a topic close to my heart. But my reasons are not the usual. I’m a full-blooded sceptic when it comes to global warming. I don’t believe the theory. In fact, I suspect that the world is actually still going through a long cooling period that began tens of thousand of years ago – a view that was the scientific consensus until recently.

So why am I interested in global warming? Well, first there’s my amateur love of palaeontology. I have what amounts to an abiding childhood interest in natural history: everything from the amphibians that came before the dinosaurs to the mammals that took over following the Great Extinction. For me, the BBC series, Walking with Dinosaurs and Walking with Beasts were godsends.

Now, if you’re interested in palaeontology, you must necessarily take notice of climate change. Indeed, climate change is one of the key elements in evolutionary adaptation throughout the world’s history. It was often solely responsible for large-scale extinction and innovations among various animal species. The history of evolution, therefore, is often a history of climate change, and both take place very slowly.

But they have more than just their long-term nature in common. One thing you learn from palaeontology is just how precarious the science itself is. What appears as certain fact one year, is quickly refuted the next. And this brings me to my second reason for following the whole global warming story: the philosophy of science.

On this point, let me provide a bit of background. The philosophy of science is not about the subject of a particular science, but about the methods, the limits and the validity of science itself. In the days of the classical Greeks, science was synonymous with knowledge based on logical deductions from a foundational assumption. The key element in Greek science, as laid out by Aristotle, was that the topic under study did not change. Science was concerned with unchanging nature. As a result, science itself was limited to understanding. In the modern world, the world of Descartes, science changed substantially. If the Greeks were concerned with understanding, the moderns were concerned with manipulation. The Greeks sought to contemplate nature, including human nature, in its generalities, while the moderns look for abstract laws that can be applied to particulars with the intent of altering reality. As such, science changed from certain but limited knowledge to probable but broad hypotheses.

The effect is that modern science actually knows nothing. The scientist’s endless task is to posit plausible theories, which other scientists then spend their lives ripping apart. Of course I exaggerate a bit here, but this is the general idea. For moderns, knowledge is more about probabilities and theories than understanding. This allows science a much greater range of subject matter, but it also means that any modern scientist who tells you he has proven something is lying ever so slightly.

And yet, we constantly hear about scientific facts as reported to us by journalists who’ve never spent even ten seconds contemplating the nature of these facts. The problem is modern science has provided us with innumerable technological gadgets – gadgets that always work. On this basis we assume scientists really understand reality since this is the logical, even natural assumption to make. But as I pointed out, it was the Greeks, not the moderns who were concerned with the natural. Modern science really rests on theories that are constantly under attack. I should note that in this regard, my much beloved palaeontology is a realm rife with theoretical uncertainty. And if we were being honest, we would admit that the simple theory of evolution, the very same upheld by any “intelligent person,” is not as sturdy as we like to think.

And what about global warming? Well, I know of few other supposedly scientific facts that are more suspect than the global warming theory. Indeed, the “facts” behind global warming are incredibly shaky. There are a host of reasons ranging from the physical to the chemical to the meteorological for one to doubt seriously the global warming theory. I’m aware of physicists who argue that movement of particles in the atmosphere runs contrary to the theory; chemists who challenge the possibility of the reactions required for global warming to occur; meteorologists who point out that the models used to predict global warming are static and completely misrepresent the dynamic climatic forces in play; statisticians who remind us that the means for measuring the effect are not even remotely adequate to predict, let alone know anything; and geologists who can provide credible evidence for cooling effects on the earth’s surface. And these were not scientists paid by oil companies, but professors at Cambridge, MIT and other respected institutions.

Still, the media, along with NGOs and international environment organizations are constantly alerting us to the dangers of global warming as though it were incontrovertible fact. These groups claim to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the earth’s atmosphere is warming, that human industrial activity is the cause, and that unless global action is taken, the effect will continue. Of course, this flies right in the face of the very modern scientific procedure that has apparently outlined the threat in the first place. The probable and self-critiquing nature of modern science is tossed overboard in a mad rush to declare that doom is riding up on us at full gallop. Unless we repent from our environmental indiscretions, all will be lost. There’s no time to waste, and there’s no time for second-guessing. So much for science.

With this in mind, I was delighted to see an article in the National Post discussing Vincent Gray’s new book, The Greenhouse Delusion. The article does a wonderful job going through Gray’s various criticisms surrounding the global warming theory, making the essential point that the science is “full of holes.” But the article also points to my third reason for entertaining an interest in global warming: politics.

Vincent Gray, was one of the expert reviewers on the “Third Assessment Report” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set up by none other than the United Nations. And here’s the rub. The whole issue of global warming, and the assertion of its scientific reality, has been a pet project for yet another UN division – the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It is this organization that continues relentlessly to sound the alarm and is the key international agency asserting the reality of the phenomenon. Indeed, this organization exists primarily on the assumption that global warming is occurring and must be halted. Of course, the UNEP doesn’t much like Mr. Gray’s views and consequently ignores him, along with anyone else who raises the least objection.

But why, considering the highly doubtful facts behind global warming, does the UNEP persist in treating the global warming theory as an absolute certainty? The answer is simple really, and it’s one I’ve pointed to before. The international set, transnational progressivists as John calls them, are constantly looking to justify the need for global governance in opposition to liberal democratic national politics and free market economics. Global warming is the perfect issue in this regard. The atmosphere is clearly a global entity, not limited to national boundaries. The presumed cause of global warming is industrialization, which means capitalism. It’s a problem that cries out for a global solution that hits at liberal markets and developed nations. Nothing could make the transnational progressivists happier.

The problem is the science just isn’t there. But when it comes to its political ideology, the UN never lets facts get in the way. And here we see a typical UN modus operandi. Look for a possible problem of global import, play with the figures in order to prove the problem’s existence, blame free market forces for the problem to ensure they can’t be part of the solution, and then assert the need for an unelected centralized global bureaucracy to impose a binding solution on national governments. Then, when the new agency gets going, the process simply reinforces itself, guaranteeing the organization’s continued existence and expansion. The process, without the critical commentary, is easily identifiable on the UNEP’s website.

So there you have it. Such is the normal game plan of pretty much any UN agency. Relying on a common sense assumption about the certainty of modern science that is in fact untrue, a whole panoply of political lies are made to appear as the necessarily moral and humane solution to a non-existent problem. I wonder if the dinosaurs behaved this way?

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