What part of global warming are global warming denialists denying?

What part of global warming are you arguing against?

The Tennessee senate passed a “Teach the Controversy” bill  for evolution and climate change. This is bad news, etc. etc., but something that puzzled me about this is how evolution and climate change are treated as if they were controversial in the same manner. Let us stop for a minute and draw a distinction between the way in which evolution and climate change are scientifically controversial. It’s true that neither is scientifically controversial in the sense that an overwhelming consensus of scientists and scientific evidence points in one direction in these “controversies.” However, in another sense, it seems to me evolution is actually scientifically controversial, while climate change is merely politically so. Let me try to explain what I mean by the above potentially confusing shorthand. The people who dispute evolution dispute the science of evolution; say we see a fossil animal and a similar animal living today, and say we say, oh, this animal we see today evolved from that one through the process of natural selection or genetic drift or what have you. And an anti-evolutionist would say no, that’s not what actually happened. There’s an argument about the actual physical process here. Now let’s take a similar look at the physical processes of climate change. We start with the greenhouse effect – presumably global warming denialists (GWD’s) don’t argue that it doesn’t exist, because greenhouses exist and they work and I never see anyone argue that they’re not warmer than their surroundings or that the reason is something other than that they are transparent to radiation coming from the sun but trap the radiation coming back off whatever is in the greenhouse. Next, we note that CO2 is a greenhouse gas – presumably GWD’s also do not dispute this because this is something you can check in an undergrad organic chemistry lab. I’ve performed IR spectroscopy of a sample that contained C=O bonds and I’ve seen where such a bond absorbs in the infrared and so has anyone who has taken organic chemistry in college. You don’t need to trust some scientific authority on this. Next, we note that human activity leads to additional emission of CO2. This is presumably also not in dispute – I don’t think GWD’s disagree with what the products of combustion reactions are. That is basically all there is to the process of global warming – the greenhouse effect exists, CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and we are emitting CO2. These facts are not in dispute. What GWD’s dispute is (1) the strength of the effect, (2) what it will lead to in the future, and (3) whether we should do anything about it. To put it mildly, the GWD’s claims are wrong, but that’s a topic for another day. But what I want to say is that of course many more complicated and less verifiable assumptions go into answering those three questions. These are questions you and I cannot answer for ourselves and thus they are prone to GWD’s “teach the controversy” tactics. But not a single one of those three questions are in any way disputes about the physical process of global warming, which I’ve just laid out for you. So where is the “scientific controversy” on global warming that you are supposed to mention in high school science class?

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One Response to What part of global warming are global warming denialists denying?

  1. Pingback: Protesting Pipelines is Worthwhile | Rated Zed

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