More Thoughts On Global Warming

As readers might have noticed from my July 27 posting and the comments it generated, an editorial I wrote on climate change/global warming has been greeted with both scorn and appreciation. The response prompted an old friend, Ted Brown, to write me. Brown is an emeritus chemistry professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and emeritus founding director at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology at Illinois. He is also the author of “Making Truth: Metaphors in Science,” which presents a complex vision of science as a deeply human endeavor largely governed by metaphorical reasoning (C&EN, July 14, 2003, page 63). Brown now has a blog called Scienceoracle, and he’s been writing recently on expert versus moral authority. He also has a book, “Imperfect Oracle,” coming out soon on this subject. Anyway, the real world example he uses to examine the clash between different sorts of authority is the debate over climate change. Brown has some interesting thoughts on how and why people reject clear scientific consensus when it conflicts with their belief systems. It’s worth checking him out.

Author: Rudy Baum

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  1. Rudy,
    Thanks for this. You can also find a darkly funny version of this in the book Idiot America. In it Charlie Pierce shows how the the people who fought the link between smoking and cancer gave those who fight global warming a playbook.

  2. @Neil: I’ve ordered a copy of “Idiot America” from Amazon and am looking forward to reading it. There’s all kinds of mischief afoot at upcoming ACS meeting. The Heartland Institute–the folks who paid for the full-page ads in the Post that prompted my 6/22 editorial–have taken a booth at the exposition. They’re asking ACS members to sign a petition demanding that ACS water down it’s quite good policy paper on global climate change.

    As always, keep safe my friend.

  3. No offense, but why do you pay these folks (THI) any attention? If you wish to be distracted by them, that’s your choice, but I think it’s not really worth pretending that they are going to have any effect on ACS policy.

  4. @Chemjobber: It’s not that I want to pay attention to them, but I think we have to take them seriously. They paid for three full-page ads in the Washington Post suggesting that climate change skeptics have been somehow locked out of the process of developing climate policy and that all they are requesting is an open debate. They are influencing the public’s perception of this important issue. Their goal is to derail meaningful policies to avert the worst effects of climate change. I think that’s important to answer.

  5. This reminds me of something Chris Mooney said at his book talk for “Unscientific America”. He said that when it comes to vaccines, evolution, and global warming types of discussions, the approach should be to “debunk the ringleaders, but understand the people who follow them.”

  6. The “Alan Strickland” from Lake Jackson, TX, who writes in the Aug. 24 issue, is apparently an MD, not a chemist or even a scientist. What I find funny is where he reviewed a book “Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation: Planning Kit ”

    Reviewed by Alan Strickland (Lake Jackson, TX), December 16, 2008

    Dr. Metzger provides an erudite and calm explanation of many of the features in John’s Revelation from what I would describe as an amillenialist viewpoint. It avoids hysterical interpretations and effectively supports a main idea of Revelation as “trust God, not the government or any other man-made institution” with all the comfort that gives. The DVD is primarily Dr. Metzger quoting the book. Dr. Metzger inspires me to dig into the Old Testament references that he notes as background for John’s images.” I think this tells us a lot about Mr. Strickland and his view of science. One wonders if he takes a similar dim view of religions taking positions on issues without asking all the members.

  7. I just noticed and read through the letters on Climate Change in the Aug 24 issue of C&EN, as well as the letters and editorials from the July 24 and June 20 issues, obviously occasioned by the Cap and Trade Bill. As I have researched the debate since first watching “Inconvenient Truth,” I have come away with the impression that CO2 levels are miniscule, atmospheric CO2 does little to capture IR, CO2 levels follow rather than lead global temperature changes, acidification of the ocean is minor and ocean buffering capacity seems to be poorly understand, human production of CO2 is a miniscule fraction of the total, new plants (opposite to animals) could readily compensate for human CO2 production, temperature is currently falling, and global temperature most accurately tracks sunspot activity. In short, the debate seems like a tempest in a teapot. Am I missing something that the rest of the scientists you refer to fully understand? Am I denying the cancer-causing potential of smoking, or the ozone destruction of fluorocarbons or something? What am I missing here?