"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," according to Justice Louis Brandeis's famous case for freedom of thought and expression. If an idea really is false, only by examining it openly can we determine that it is false. At that point we will be in a better position to convince others that it is false than if we had let it fester in private, since our very avoidance of the issue serves as a tacit acknowledgment that it may be true. And if an idea is true, we had better accommodate our moral sensibilities to it, since no good can come from sanctifying a delusion. This might even be easier than the ideaphobes fear. The moral order did not collapse when the earth was shown not to be at the center of the solar system, and so it will survive other revisions of our understanding of how the world works.
~ Steven Pinker
Preface to Dangerous Ideas
We face an incredibly important reality that the earth's climate is, in fact, changing. The question is, "Why?"
Is the earth going into a natural warming spell and there is nothing human beings can do about it.
Or can the earth's climate change be attributed the activity of humans?
Did the pollution pumped into the air, water, and ground trigger an event that would not have happened if human activity had not occurred?
Certainly examining ideas openly is essential for a free society, but with scientific questions the public may not be equipped to follow the discussion and economic interests may intentionally distort the issues to maintain profits and control. This has happened with the public discussion of climate control. The story is told in the book Merchants of Doubt, which traces similar previous efforts to sow disinformation about cigarettes and cancer and the effects of acid rain.
Consider the history of cigarettes and cancer. The Surgeon General's report was published in 1964, over half a century ago. In 1994 the CEO's of the seven largest tobacco companies testified before Congress that nicotine was not addictive and that the evidence that smoking causes cancer and heart disease was not conclusive. For decades tobacco companies have held their ground by lying to the public.
Any other product as harmful as tobacco would have been banned from the market. A faulty crib that causes the death of half a dozen babies will be recalled. Any medication that has serious side effects is withdrawn from the market almost as soon as they are discovered. Yet an estimated 480,000 smoking-related deaths a year is not enough to ban cigarettes.
Tobacco companies have been able to prevent action against their products by distorting the public discussion on a scientific subject which most people have difficulty fully understanding. It turns out that some of the same scientists who have helped the tobacco industry are involved in denying climate change by muddying the public discussion.
Perhaps there is no better way than open public discussion, but when economic concerns enter the discussion, there are certainly people willing to blow smoke rather than see an honest discussion.
Thanks for your prompt response, Allan, Yes, I read Merchants of Doubt and that is why I hope to see an intelligent discussion here, and I encourage differences of opinion. I don't want any of the shit or asshole discussions, they simply incite, not inform. I like questions and an honest search for answers.
Ruth does a beautiful job informing us with the latest information and I appreciate her efforts. There is a background noise of denial on this site and I want it to come out into the open with evidence.
Donald convinced me I interpreted the data incorrectly and I am happy to thank him for being so gentlemanly and persistent. No one benefits, least of all me if I am wrong.
Now, what causes the tipping points? Is it nature or the activities of human beings?
As to the tobacco topic, Sadly, my daughter and one of my sons continue to smoke and they have all the latest information and understand the principles put forth in Merchants of Doubt. They both know the risks and they both know the suffering of my mother, a life-long smoker and their beloved grandmother, during her final years.
We have so much information about the tons of pollutants we put into the atmosphere. We also know that previous warming spells occurred abruptly, as did cold ones. That is about all we know at this time, or I invite anyone to bring me up to date.
When this topic comes up for discussion, there are two "thought experiments" I like to ask people to try out as a means of clarifying things at the beginning.
1. Suppose that you were parachuted into an unknown place on the face of the earth with a radio transmitter. You would be able immediately to tell the outside world what the weather was at your location. How long before you could tell them for sure what the climate was?
2. The primary metric used in the scientific study of global climate change is called Global Mean Temperature and it means the average temperature of the earth's surface. Starting from scratch how would you define it and how would you design a system to determine global mean temperature?
These two questions can serve—for many people who have not previously thought much about climate—to open up their minds about the issues and highlight the difficulties involved.