I thought of a potentially interesting follow up to Karen Street’s post last week on climate change skeptics and deniers.
For those who are skeptics/deniers, I’m interested in the answers to the following questions:
1. What evidence/findings/research would convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that large scale, potentially catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming is occurring? Note: I’m assuming that it doesn’t have to be something as extreme as a Day After Tomorrow scenario!
To unpack, no one doubts that the earth warms and cools over time, and that humans may have something to do with it, in principle, at least. However, when we say “global warming”, what is usually meant in the contemporary context is large scale warming, warming that is dangerous for the planet (or at least its human inhabitants), and anthropogenic warming. Thus, when I say “global warming” in this post, that’s what I mean: large-scale, potentially dangerous/catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming. Let’s call this the Worst Case Scenario, or WCS for short. To unpack some more: In 1., I say “beyond a reasonable doubt”, since outside of mathematical proofs, that’s probably the best one can come to “proving” anything. One other thing that might be good to add to 1. is not only what would convince you of the WCS beyond a reasonable doubt, but who could do so–or would it matter? In other words, would it have to come from a conservative source, or from the conversion of a former denier? Or would the solidity of the evidence be sufficient, regardless of origin?
Or is it possible that nothing would convince you? One might argue that on the scale of a human lifespan, global warming can’t be demonstrated or disproved, either one. There is evidence that some of the Ice Ages had an onset period of less than 400 years, and I’ve read some evidence that some effects may have been felt within a single human lifetime, so I think global change can be faster than most of us think. Still, slowness of change is at least a theoretical argument one might make. Short of that, a “nothing will convince me” stance would seem to be unscientific.
2. Assuming that whatever necessary information has in fact convinced you beyond any reasonable doubt of the WCS–that is, massive, possibly catastrophic, wide-scale, anthropogenic global warming–what is the appropriate response?
To unpack: Assuming the WCS, would the correct response to be to depend on the actions of individuals and market-based solutions; or might involuntary steps taken by government action (e.g. banning certain types of appliances, government mandates, etc.) be necessary?
It seems to me that if there’s even a small chance of such a devastating WCS, there ought to be at least theoretical contingency plans. Also, even if there is disagreement as to whether the WCS is on its way, it seems that mitigating some of the possible human-based factors would be a good idea. Analogy: you get an abnormal result from your yearly checkup. They do some more work and send it off to the lab. You think there’s probably nothing major wrong; but does that mean you don’t even consider getting more exercise, eating better, etc.?
Anyway, I’d be interested to see the thoughts on these questions.