Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eaarth in the balance

I order books from the library fairly randomly and the wait times vary a lot so when I get to read a thing is not at all predictable.  Amusingly I ended up with two books arriving this week that focus to varying degrees on climate change and they take two distinctly different tacks.  The first is The Rational Optimist which I already talked about twice this week which looks at climate change, innovation and economics and concludes that there will be distinct difficulties in dealing with climate change long term but that we are capable of overcoming the challenges and an approach of gradual reduction of emissions is best for humanity long term.  I generally very much agreed with that book's conclusions, in particular that nuclear power is the way to go moreso than wind, wave, geothermal or otherwise.

The second book is called Eaarth by Bill McKibben and it takes a dramatically different tack:  The Earth as we know it is already so completely destroyed/changed by climate change that we are living on a new planet entirely which he chooses to call Eaarth.  I would say that this book is *almost* completely rubbish but that might be opening the door to doubt, of which I have none.  I ordered Eaarth quite some time ago when there was a discussion on my blog about whether or not there are climate change believers out there actively spreading false data about climate change who have some reason to profit from it.  While I obviously don't suggest that Bill McKibben has the raw profit dollars that Exxon does he certainly stands to gain a lot from pushing his agenda and you sell a lot more books with froth mouthed doomsaying than with rational analysis.

The ways in which Bill proves that climate change has already happened and is cataclysmic in nature include anecdotal weather reports from illiterate farmers, scientific data as quoted by random newpapers or magazines, big numbers with absolutely no context, ignoring inflation and other economic changes when convenient and personal experience.  His typical example is to cite a particular area, cherrypick the timeframe that best shows his point and then give an alarming number to suggest substantial change/disaster has occurred and to follow up by assuming this is true globally.  Anyone who is bothering to look at his examples at all would wonder why he chooses his examples so specifically instead of looking at broader trends; the answer would be that in any random system you get plenty of outliers and you can prove anything if you pick the ones you want and assume they are the norm.  The best example I found so far is that he blames the beach sand in Dubai being too hot for some tourists on global warming and talks about how the hotel in question is planning on cooling down the sand for their clients somehow.  This just in:  Dubai is hot, and has been for quite some time.  The change so far in the past hundred years is something like .7C, not 7C.

"We are overwhelming the system," says Richard Zeebe, an assistant professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii. "It's pretty outrageous what we've done."  Which is as objective a scientific statement as you're likely to hear.  

If you want scientific support for your theories I would like to suggest that an assistant professor giving a statement with no numbers, citations or context is demolishing your credibility, not building it up.  This is particularly true when you add a note to suggest that this is objective and scientific at all.

So here is the thing:  Climate change is real.  Dealing with it is important.  That doesn't mean we should listen to this irresponsible agitator or his ilk, and it is important to recognize that this sort of person exists and that his views are being displayed and consumed in mainstream channels alongside propaganda from Big Oil as well as real scientific data.  If this was the only book on climate change that I read I would be utterly convinced that climate change was a hoax cooked up by a bunch of lunatics desperate for attention and book sales.


  1. I would like to say for the record that I am inordinately proud of using 'or his ilk' in a post. Just like preposterous it is the sort of thing I see written but rarely have the joy of writing down myself in an appropriate context.

  2. I read McKibbens End Of Nature years ago and deemed it to be a joke. I can't believe anyone takes this guy seriously. Your assessment is bang on, Sky. Don't waste any more time on him.
    Mike Z.