Why Anthropogenic Global Warming Isn’t the Real Issue (My Case: Part 3 of 3)

This is a historical post. This is the last of my older series on climate change. I feel I was starting to head in the right direction on many points, but missed a lot. I wish I had been aware of many of the ideas that have been suggested since. I wouldn’t, today, take the ‘risk mitigation’ stance I did in this post. Instead I’d just talk about solving existing problems. Period. However, an unrefuted risk is a problem. This article should be understood in that light. Also, I wasn’t very familiar with Elon Musk back then. I think I’d today put a lot of emphasis on non-government intervention (which will please my An-Cap friends — even though I didn’t agree with them in this post.)

But I think the main thing that people will disagree with me over is that I treat CO2 level as a definitive problem on grounds of “non sustainability.” However, I feel this isn’t that far from the truth. Nothing about our progress is ‘sustainable’ without further progress. The fact that it was non-controversial that CO2 level were rising and would continue to do so without us making choices is not inconsistent with Popperian epistemology here. We do have a problem worth solving in climate change. It’s just less clear that we need to solve it in any one particular way.

In my last two posts, I first made the case that Anthropogenic CO2 Levels is basically non-controversial and then made the case that our science can’t really connected Global Warming with Anthropogenic CO2 anyhow, even if it’s true. 

Anthropogenic Global Warming Doesn’t Matter After All

I believe Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) isn’t the real issue. The real issue is CO2 emissions. We are putting out unsustainable levels of CO2. I’ll define “unsustainable” as “growing with no chance of cutting back without intervention.” (Note: the ‘without intervention’ is really important to understand in my argument. Remember, I’m talking to people that are strongly advocating that the mere fact that Climate Change models may not be right means we can ignore them all together. My focus was on trying to help them see past that and instead start coming up with good solutions to climate change that didn’t impact progress.)

Now some might argue here that eventually fossil fuels will run out on their own and we’ll cut back naturally. Fair enough. But I hope you see that this is a huge risk well into the realm of “we have no idea what we’re doing to ourselves and are just hoping for the best.” It’s understandable that people see this as a problem worth solving even if they don’t see it as a prophecy of the future.

We do not need to know if global warming is man-made to know that we need to deal with the growth of CO2 eventually in some way. So we already have an overwhelming onus to act and act now, even if the ‘action’ is long term only, better research, or minimal intervention. It simply does not matter if global warming is man-made or not.

The fact is we don’t know what we don’t know. CO2 may have some disastrous effect unrelated to global warming. It might turn the oceans acid or cause termites to become sentient. We just don’t know. But when we know we have an problem like our growing CO2 levels, it is not the correct moral choice to wait for a disaster to show up before we do something about it.

Furthermore, the fact is that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Even if the models are all wrong — off by a factor of 100 let’s say — eventually it’s going to be a problem.

Note: I believe this was more or less a direct quote from Deutsch from somewhere. I am not sure BoI had been published yet.

Risk Mitigation

Maybe it’s the fact that I happen to be a Project Manager. In Project Management practices, we have something called “issues,” and something called “risks.”

“Issues” is when some problem has already manifest itself and we need to take action to resolve it. “Risks” is when we foresee a future issues that might cause a problem, so we take mitigating actions to reduce the risk.

Now to be sure, there is not a bold line between those two. Risks and issues are often largely one and the same and the real determining factor as to which is which is what we plan to do about it. If the action we plan is to directly address it, we call it an issue. If it’s to keep something unfortunate from happening, we call it a risk.

So let’s think of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) as a debatable “issue” and Anthropogenic CO2 Levels as a known and agreed upon “risk.”  To know of a risk and to not act on it to mitigate it is considered incompetence in Project Management practice. The fact that often the issue or risk turns out to be not as big a deal as first thought is not considered an excuse for not managing your project environment. [1]

I am proposing that we conservatives stop being incompetent without having to admit we were wrong about AGW. Instead, think of AGW as an example of ‘what might go wrong if we don’t address know problems’.

One thing Project Management has taught me over the years is that you can’t really predict all outcomes, or even most of them. The ones that finally get you are the ones you didn’t predict. So my biggest fear is that we will allow CO2 growth to keep running but chose to ignore it merely because ‘there isn’t a current known problem.’ (And here I’m assuming AGW isn’t a current problem, though in fact it might be.) That’s just begging to have some completely unforeseen issue crop up after it’s already too late.

What is the Conservative Position?

For those that might protest that it’s not true conservatives have advocated inaction, I have one question: where is the conservative platform for curbing CO2 growth? Where is our conservative legislation to counter the liberal ones? If it exists at all, it’s surely so understated that I was unable to find it.  

I am not advocating anything like the liberal plan here. Maybe the correct conservative alterantive plan is to spend more money researching geo-engineering techniques, for example, rather than cap-and-trade. (Though I haven’t entirely ruled out a form of cap-and-trade either.) Or to plant more trees.

On the other hand, some conservatives have no problem at all admitting that they are advocating neglect. And indeed, for all intents and purposes, I think this is an accurate statement.

Conservatives always phrase things such that they claim if “better information’ were to come forth, they’d change their mind. But, as we’ve seen through this series of posts, they have rather straightforwardly setup a situation whereby the only possible ‘better information’ they will accept is a crisis.

When it really comes down to it, we the public are being given two choices:

1. Take a known issues (CO2 Emissions) and believe a problematic model (though it’s the best we’ve got and probably the best we can do) and therefore create a carbon tax that will likely cause economic diaster in the short run.

2. Do nothing at all. Just ignore the known issues (CO2 Emissions) unless an actual crisis happens. Then try to act on it at this time. In the mean time, have faith it won’t be a problem.

We conservatives have effectively advocated for inaction in the face of a known risk (Anthropogenic CO2 Levels) and so we are guilty in my opinion.

Individually, we all believe we are skeptics, not deniers. We all believe there is some evidence out there that, if it becomes available, will move us to act. Yet the need to act on Anthropogenic CO2 Levels has been there all along, complete with as compelling evidence as is humanly possible — agreement between believers and skeptics. (I.e. unrefuted problems) Yet it did not move us to action. Individually, we might be skeptics, but collectively we’ve some how become deniers.

Global Warming Needs to Be Considered Even if It’s Natural

So we already know we have a moral obligation as stewards of the earth to act and act now about CO2 emissions.

But I want you to consider a possibility. What if the global warming skeptics are right that global warming is man-made? What if CO2 is man-made, but global warming is natural?

Why does it matter? Won’t we be just as dead if the earth turns to Venus due to solar flares?

You may personally think this is impossible, but the truth is that the earth has already gone through some horrifyingly bad periods in its history all on it’s own. I wouldn’t personally want to go back to an ice age with a mile of ice over where I currently sit. Nor would I like to live during the time of the dinosaur extinction — whatever it is that killed them off.

Back in this post I gave a quote from AGW Denier Frank Tipler where he admits we really do have to worry abut the earth passing a tipping point and becoming hostile to the existence of life. (Again, basing what I believe on where critics admit to consensus is my strategy.) (i.e. non-refuted problems.)

So I believe we have an obvious and immediate moral duty to both curb CO2 emissions and also start developing technologies to cool the earth, regardless of whether or not we caused the warming.

Furthermore, underlying all AGW Skeptic arguments lurks an assumption that if the problem isn’t man-made, then the earth will ‘set it to be right’ on its own and we should do nothing. Personally I am unwilling to merely ‘assume’ this to be true. First, there is the afore mentioned quote from Denier Frank Tipler that suggests this assumption isn’t true. Second there is real history that says this isn’t true, i.e. the ice age.

Third, to be blunt, if I’m not going to buy the current climate models of earth’s best scientists – complete with a scientific consensus – then there is no way I’m going to buy an assumption that the earth will correct itself without at least an equivalent ‘counter climate model’ complete with peer review. So true or not, I’m going to assume the self correcting earth to be false for the moment on the grounds that this is the only good policy based on the current information available to me. This is sufficient to me for now.

Conclusions

And this, my friends, is my conservative case for acting now. I ask you all to put your skepticism aside and consider carefully what I am saying. To summarize:

1. We have no idea if global warming is man-made or not

2. It doesn’t matter because, as good stewards of the earth, we need to take care of our growing CO2 problem regardless

3. The whole man-made vs. natural debate was always and always will be beside the point. We need to be prepared to cool the earth if it gets too hot even if it’s natural. We’re already spending money on this and that’s not going to change anyhow, so let’s spend it wisely.

This is also why I said that my lack of credentials made my uniquely suited to make this argument. It is beyond me to actually try to understand the scientific arguments of environmentalists –- for or against. The idea that we can study it out and figure it out for ourselves is generally just not true. Those that say this are (usually) fooling themselves.

Making decisions on what actions to take should not be contingent upon certainty. I am not certain of much of anything, yet there was still sufficient agreement on certain “facts” (i.e. the non-refuted points) to make a determination that prudent action is necessary. We do not need to be experts to be able to figure out that the time to take action is already upon us.

However, the astute reader will realize that a “conservative case to act” does not imply agreement with our liberal/democratic brethren on what actions should be taken. Indeed, I fully disagree with the democratic platform. They are right about the need to act, but wrong about what actions should be taken. (Historical Note: I wish I had directly said that stopping progress was an unacceptable way to solve a problem.)

Notes

[1] The fact that often the issue or risk turns out to be not as big a deal as first thought is not considered an excuse for not managing your project environment. This is one of the single hardest things for me to emotionally accept as a project manager. I will spend tons of time dealing with issues and risks that will eventually turn out to be non-issues. As a newbie project manager, the argument for ‘waiting to see if it’s a real problem’ seemed strong. I had to learn the hard way not to do this. It turns out that the very act of dealing with an issue up front tends to make the issue go away. It’s not always obvious if my actions removed it or if it just ‘went away on it’s own.’ Indeed, my actions are an integral part of the project and therefore there actually is no such thing as disentangling my actions from the rest of the project.

For example, I may document that a client said they wanted something because I have some doubts that they might change their mind later and then try to argue that the expanded scope was was we originally agreed upon. But I rarely, if ever, have to go back to my documentation and show it to customers. Therefore the argument to not document scope because it’s a waste of time and costs seems very strong based on the evidence that customers never argue about scope.

But this is an illusion. The way you prove it is by not documenting the scope and watching your project fail due to getting bogged down with arguments over scope. Why is this the case? Because the very fact that the customer knows I document things tends to cause them to not make scope arguments in the first place. They are afraid I have it all documented, so they’re afraid to try to argue over the scope with me.

The other problem with a ‘wait and see’ attitude is that you can’t actually predict in advance what issues will kill a project. It is nothing short of amazing how any issue, no matter how innocuous it seems at the time, can kill a project if not addressed. For example, I might forget to put fluffy bunnies on the screen like I was asked and then the owner of the company sees I forgot this and loses all confidence in everything and the project ends up failing due to lack of confidence – even though it’s a 10 minute fix.

It’s also amazing how huge issues that seem like killers often don’t get addressed and nothing happens. For example, you’d think that coming in on time and budget would be the single most important success or failure factor. It’s not. Projects have an uncanny way of missing budgets and schedules and still be successful. But I found out the hard way that this is only true if the customer honestly believes you did your best to make their budget and schedule and it was something outside your control – which implies you have to have made significant and visible efforts upfront to avoid the problem first.

In short, I have become a huge advocate for rigorously managing issues on a project even though it honestly seems like 90% of them could have been neglected and nothing bad would have happened. I feel the same way about the skeptic’s cry that CO2 emissions will probably just go away on it’s own. I seriously doubt that. But I do believe it will go away ‘on it’s own’ if we take it seriously and try to address it. I suspect the very act of trying to address it will change the markets to avert problems. I will explain my point of view on this better in future posts.

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