Column: Science isn't on the side of those denying global warming

Jim Cain

We have all heard it -- the sarcastic remark -- by someone gazing at the epic whiteness of the landscape this past, interminable winter. Some do it jokingly, others seriously offer it as evidence that global warming is a fantasy. The latter see their experiences as the reference point for all phenomenon in the cosmos. Professional warming deniers pander to this element by validating their navel-gazing beliefs. It's not a benign validation.

Professional deniers have an agenda that does not bode well for mankind. It occludes current science, ignoring the fact this past winter is what global warming models predict -- more extreme, severe and changing weather. This past winter, any single weather event, is an obscure data point at the 0.0000001 level of significance.

When science is co-opted by politics, truth is the casualty. Such is the case with global warming. Truth is confounded and deniers enabled by exploiting the public's lack of understanding of scientific methodology. Depending on your definition of "settled science," in a very technical sense, the deniers are right. It's not "settled science."

A recent article by someone with legitimate credentials questioned global warming. The intent was to raise enough doubt about the research of 96 percent of climatologists who conclude that it is a real phenomenon caused by human activity to allow deniers to cling to their belief. A corollary to this is believers are alarmist and part of a liberal conspiracy.

The article questions the conclusions of the vast majority of climate scientists by a deceptive, subliminal exploitation of scientific inquiry predicated on a limited understanding of probability and statistical analysis. This strategy avoids the inherent problem of a frontal attack on the peer reviewed research presented by the 96 percent.

The first question in evaluating research should be about the credentials of the scientists, their affiliations and funding source. Conflicts of interest emerge. Deniers believe the left has created controversy for political reasons yet are unable to consider the possibility the right is driven by its own ideology. This research, virtually without exception, has connection to the fossil fuel industry and suggests cyclical variation as the explanation.

The Koch brothers and others, whose wealth is tied to fossil fuels, are major patrons of the researchers who, not surprisingly, discount human activity as a causal factor. In the realm of foreign policy, the neo-cons pursue national interest while ignoring consequences for the rest of the world. The Koch brothers are the neo-cons of energy production, pursuing their own interest as they obstruct efforts to limit global warming.

There is an entrenched faction in the GOP led by Sen. James Inhofe, whose principal financial contributor is the oil and gas industry, that is intent upon undoing environmental regulations. This is a man who holds the borderline delusional belief that humans are arrogant to believe anyone but God can affect the climate. With this as a premise, Inhofe's solution -- prayer -- is logical.

Appeal to authority is a weak form of argument. However, on issues like global warming where the public lacks expertise, it's wise to defer to scientists. To do otherwise raises the question as to what process is being used to contradict the current state of science. It further raises the question of why current science is accepted in virtually all areas of inquiry except global warming.

Global warming deniers, since they don't like the solutions, deny the problem. An apt analogy is the individual whose impulse when experiencing chest pain is to search the Internet for causes other than a heart attack -- because he wants it to be so. This is essentially what the Koch brothers do by funding research yielding conclusions they want. When your wealth is intimately related to fossil fuels, there's incentive to remain part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Some in the GOP offer the more enlightened solution of accepting the science and developing free market alternatives. Unfortunately, those solutions -- wind, solar, etc. -- have a liberal stigma and could result in GOP candidates being "primaried." Political survival requires questioning science. Marco Rubio ties himself in knots playing to the right while still remaining a viable in a general election -- the Romney Dilemma.

Science is not beyond the reach of criticism but you can't exploit the methodology of science and reject where it leads. If you believe in science you conclude global warming is caused by human activity. If you make money selling fossil fuels you focus on the very unlikely possibility that it's explainable by natural cycles. However, if believers are right and policy is informed by science rather than dictated by the oil and gas oligarchs humankind live in a cleaner environment and the Kochs go on welfare.

The conclusion of the article I referenced while technically correct -- global warming is not settled science -- is a probability statement. The odds of the earth's warming not being related to human activity, is approaching the odds of my winning the Kentucky Derby riding my pet cat. If mankind chooses to caste its fate with the deniers we should do it knowing it's a very long shot. In probability theory, the null hypothesis asserts that there is no significant difference between two sets of data. Humankind needs to reject the null hypothesis thus affirming reality -- global warming is tied to human activity.

Jim Cain writes from North Andover.


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