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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The War on Science Marches On -- Objectivists and Global Warming

There's a good new/bad news report coming out of the UK on global warming. We'll start with the bad news -- not addressing global warming will be really expensive. Economic disaster on the scale of both world wars and the great depression kind of expensive:

CTV News:

Global warming could devastate the world economy on a scale we haven't seen since the world wars and the Great Depression, a major report by a British economist says.

Sir Nicholas Stern, the report's author and a senior government economist, said unchecked global warming could shrink the global economy by 20 per cent -- and cost a whopping $7 trillion in lost output.

The good news is that avoiding this won't really cost all that much, considering:

However, taking action now would cost just one per cent of global gross domestic product, Sterns says in his 700-page study.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who introduced the report today, called for "bold and decisive action" to cut carbon emissions and stem the worst of temperature rise.

He said the Stern Review showed scientific evidence that global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous."

But that's the UK. Here in the US, where sound science never goes unchallenged by crazies, the free market moonies over at the Cato Institute have decided to lend an unwelcome and unhelpful hand.

Monsters and Critics:

A U.S. policy analyst says a global warming report by Britain`s Nicholas Stern 'flies in the face of most studies on the subject.'

Jerry Taylor, a senior follow at Washington`s libertarian Cato Institute, said Stern`s report, which warns of catastrophic economic consequences from global warming, is a gross exaggeration that is out of the scientific mainstream.

Saying that global climate change is 'out of the scientific mainstream' really isn't so much accurate. In fact, it's a complete lie. Unfortunately, it's a very successful lie. According to McClatchy Newspapers, global warming denial is catching on in the US at the worst possible time.

When it comes to global warming, scientists and the American public aren't talking on the same wavelength.

Most scientists believe that humans and their machines are mainly responsible for the 1.4 degree Fahrenheit rise in the world's average temperature in the last 100 years. Most Americans think otherwise.

Only 41% of americans believe global climate change is caused by human activity. So how 'outside the mainstream' is global climate science? According to McClatchy, "Last Wednesday, a group of 18 climate scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court declaring that they're 99 percent certain that 'greenhouse gas emissions from human activities cause global climate change, endangering human health and welfare.'" Also, "The official scientific consensus is contained in a massive report issued in 2001 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization that the United Nations created to collect and assess the work of climate scientists.

"The IPCC report concluded that 'most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.' "

So I guess Taylor's idea of the scientific mainstream is the small minority of kooks and corporate stooges who deny it. Taylor and Cato fall into both groups. Taylor is the co-author of Did Enron Pillage California? for Cato in 2002. In that paper, Taylor's and co-author Peter Van Doren's short answer to that question was no. Today, Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling is on his way to prison for 24+ years, found guilty of corporate fraud and conspiracy.

This is often the case; finding reality and the Cato Institute on opposite sides of a question. Cato is a hotbed of randian libertarianism or 'objectivism'. Objectivists are often referred to as a secular cult, not the least reason being that belief trumps fact in their minds. Instead of beginning with a question and reaching a conclusion, they seem to begin with a conclusion and find reasons to believe it -- similar to evolution deniers, for example. This is especially frustrating with objectivists, because they see themselves as hardheaded realists and the fact is that they're utopian moonies.

In Cato's case, the forgone conclusion is that when business and government meet, business is always right. In denying global warming, they begin with the assumption that business can't possibly cause harm. Therefore, the reasoning goes, global warming can't be real -- or, at least, can't be caused by industry. Again, begin with the conclusion and find supporting evidence. It doesn't make any difference what the scientific method turns up, since that's bass-ackward to them. Science begins with a question and leads to a conclusion. Can't have that -- that means you could wind up with a conclusion that doesn't help corporations. Conclusion control is all-important.

Back in the '90s, Cato believed the crap tobacco companies put out and declared there were no ties between smoking and cancer. Today, they believe the crap put out by oil companies and say there's no link between CO2 and climate change.

What's troubling here is that the public is amazingly unsophisticated when it comes to spotting a BS public relations campaign. The term 'public relations' first appeared in print in 1897 -- you'd think we'd be a little more skeptical of corporate propaganda by now. For objectivists, it's gospel, but you'd hope that the wider american public would take a little less time than one hundred-nine years to get how this stuff works.

But there we are. They're buying it -- at the worst possible time. To go back to the CTV piece, "'It is not in doubt that, if the science is right, the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous,'' said [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair.

"'This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime.

"'Unless we act now ... these consequences, disastrous as they are, will be irreversible.'"


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