Noah Dove - Dec. 11th 2008

The following is a conversation with Matt about man-made global warming which turned into a logical rhetoric dialogue. While there was initially more conversation in the pre-dialogue portion of this piece (directed at starting a philosopical retoric dialogue, for my part), it has been abridged due to it's lack of relavence to the actual dialogue found herewithin.

Matt said...

As I reason, there are three main ways to attack global warming (or, really, any scientific theory). You can attack the proposed 'solutions', by questioning its effectiveness, by reasoning that the cause-effect relationship that leads to a policy is invalid by pointing out some overlooked-cause. You can attack the cause-effect relationship itself by pointing out data that indicates that the cause-effect relationship is backwards or that the cause and effect have little correlation. You can also attack the data itself by reasoning that the method by which the data is collected is based off of some theory or understanding that is flawed and hence shows a meaningless relationship.

All of your arguments so far about global warming have fallen into each of these categories. Do I have this right so far?

So I wonder what you would do in the scientist's/policy-maker's shoes: You have or a group of scientists shows you data that indicates that over the past 100 years of weather reporting, the world temperatures have been increasing. What's your next move?

Of course you'd be skeptical, especially if you had not heard their reasoning. Assume they explained it in such a way as you currently understand it. What would be your course of action? Would you question their sources of data? Would you question their cause-effect relationship? Would you suggest other causes? Which of the three? Or, am I missing some other category of attack?

What would you do, assuming your normal, rational, reasonable self?

Noah replied...

I'd actually do all three. I'd point out that the ability to understand cause-effect relationships in such a massively complex case as the Earth's climate is impossible. I'd also question the data source (although I'm not really all that sure how far I would go with that as that line of attack tends to be a short road), and I'd also question what other interests were putting pressure on the scientists to come to the conclusions that they were coming to.

Then, of course, I'd ask for a strategy, and when they would give me vague generalities and incongruous specific polity tidbits I'd thank them politely and escort them out of my office and tell my secretary to let the next religious lobby group in (in a loud enough voice so the scientists could hear me).

Matt replied...

Well, let me play the part of the scientists, and you can play the part of the skeptic (there is irony here, I think, but I digress).

They would respond:

1) "Why is understanding such a complex system impossible? What other factors might influence this cause-effect relationship that we have overlooked in our report?"

2) They would respond that they are acting on their own as a concerned group; they have long suspected that the weather of late was stranger than weather of their childhood, and after careful analysis of the data, have found the weather trend in the data validates their hypothesis. They act out of concern for the future of their country. Three scientists with families indicate looking out for the well-being of their children. One indicates looking out for the 'future of the human race'.

3) They do not present any kind of a strategy. They only present the information as researched. They ask you to come up with a strategy (though you don't need to do that for this exercise).

Noah replied...

to #1 I would reply that there are way too many variables in the system that not only are uncontrolled for the purpose of getting this data, but are uncontrollable. I mean, weathermen are accurate less than 50% of the time, and they can SEE the storms and other weather conditions coming right at them, and they have data which can be immediately verified or falsified (and, as such, models can be made more accurate faster). If a random binary generator can be a better predictor than trained meteorologists, why should I believe that something like man-made global warming, for which there is no training, should be true?

As it is, it seems that such "science" is noting two data points, specifically that man-made activities produce carbon dioxide, and that in some places the average yearly temperature is increasing. You can't just put those two data points next to each other and hope that they magically turn into a cause/effect relationship. If that kind of "science" sticks then I'd like to place the facts that there is a yearly temperature increase and a relatively higher net birth rate of people of non-white races next to each other...

For #2, I'd have to break it apart.

As for "They would respond that they are acting on their own as a concerned group", I'd note that that doesn't make you free at all of political corruption. Concerned groups have agendas, worldviews, and funders just like everybody else.

As for "and after careful analysis of the data, have found the weather trend in the data validates their hypothesis", I would point to my response to #1, and note that it also validates my hypothesis that you need to murder all black people in order to curb global warming.

As for "They act out of concern for the future of their country." I have no doubt. It would be an awful lot of effort and money being spent just to make America a worse place. That being said, I don't believe that the outcomes of the policies that I'm sure they would like to see enacted will be for the net embetterment of our country.

As for "Three scientists with families indicate looking out for the well-being of their children. One indicates looking out for the 'future of the human race'." I would note that the scale of your concern does not increase the validity or efficacy of global warming policy. That being said, it usually takes me a long exposure to certain people for me to begin to question their personal motives. I wouldn't by default question the intentions of 100 random people showing up.

As for #3, I'd say fair enough. I'd also say that I don't agree with them, and so I'm going to choose not to create any policy regarding the subject. If they had a plan, I'd be glad to critique it, but I'd feel no obligation to come up with one on my own, no more than I'd feel obligated if KKK people came into my office and asked me how to eradicate racial uncleanliness from the United States.

Matt replied...

#1: Specifically which variables are you speaking of? We have accounted for all of the known ones in our report. Which ones are you thinking of?

#2: a) Agreed. However, were you to look into our past, you'd find that we are generally decent people, and are not trying to waste taxpayer's money to achieve some political end. Rather, we think that only the government has the ability to deal with this situation, so that's why we've come to you, the policymaker.

#2: b) Killing anyone is certainly nothing we would ever recommend.

#2: c) We think spending this money would protect America's (and the world's) future. Why do you think it would make our lives worse?

#3: We are not policymakers, and aren't nearly well-connected enough in order to craft the policy that would address this potential threat. However, we can show that the potential disadvantages of not doing anything exceeds the potential disadvantages of doing something, and that the potential advantages far outweigh keeping the status quo.

Noah replied...

#1: I don't know specifically which ones (as I'm not a climatological scientist), but given the woeful track record of the science, I have no faith in the models being presented. Not only that, but I question the scientist's predictive power. If no one can tell me where a hurricane is going to land when it first forms a few months before landfall, then why should I believe that someone can tell me what's going to happen to the entire climate over the next few centuries?

Given the terrible predictive preformance record of climate science, it's clear to me that there has got to be SOMETHING wrong with the modelling/theorizing process, and I would assume that it has something to do with awful variable control (like, for example, the fact that you're working with untold number of air molecules with known variables like heat coming from an untold number of locations, etc. etc.)

Plus, the scientists didn't address my greater point. There is no causal relationship between their data and their choice of conclusions. In fact, it doesn't even really corroborate any better than any other crackpot theories like the racial theory of global climate change.

#2a, once again, I don't question your intentions. You've got to know, though, that grappling onto other people's power is tough. For the sake of your cause, I'd direct more of your focus on the people at large (from whom I draw my power), as they are likely to be far less demanding than I.

#2b not by your word-association theory, but what if the next person comes in and has a different associative theory than you? Should I just do what THEY want me to do to end global warming?

#2c because you're spending money on something that I don't percieve that has any benefit while at the same time being forced to spend less money on things that do have real, current, obvious benefits (rather than implied unverifiable, future benefits that you're propounding). The pie is only so big, and every slice you take is taken from someone else.

#3. Ah, but I'm the polititian and you're the scientists. I'll worry about how to get re-elected, thank you. If you're so concerned, though, I am currently accepting donations to my campaign warchest. Elections in just two years, you know!

Matt replied...

#1: a. We are climatologists. As far as we know, there are no other variables that could be affecting the global climate. Our models are based off of a short time-span of information, and it accurately explains information beyond the range of the model. Our verification procedure is quite sound, and is used consistently in every scientific or statistical field in order to reduce error. These procedures are both theoretically sound, and have been shown to verify commonly used scientific models that are known to be true, as well as vilify those models that we know to be false.

#1: b. The scale of the system being studied actually helps us to study it. Were we only studying a small section of the world's climate, we would certainly be stymied in our research, because of the chaotic nature of weather and the open-ness of the system. However, since we are studying global weather patterns, we have a far simpler job. It may help to explain this by way of an example: take the example of a single water droplet falling down a soda can. No matter the information we knew about the surface of the can nor the drop of water, we could not predict accurately the final position of the water when it leaves the can. But consider millions of gallons of water falling down a mountain, as in a river. The larger system, rather than amplifying the error of its constituent parts, dampens it, so that the path of the water is very simple to predict.

#1: c. We are not familiar with that particular explanation of climate change, but we did not discuss any causal relationship. Our conclusion is simply that the earth is warming in a historically strange way. We predict that in the future, this warming will be harmful to a large number of people.

#2: a. We have decided to come to you, because in the past, the government has shown to be able to organize a large number of people, far more than any other organization. Since our conclusions point to global warming affecting many people around the world, the government seemed the most logical choice.

#2: b. We are not recommending any specific course of action to remedy global warming. We only know that something needs to be done.

#2: c. What leads you to believe that dealing with global warming has no benefit?

#3. We are not concerned with your re-election. We know that this issue requires government assistance, and you are the person to turn to. Do you not think your constituents will see our above reasoning and agree with us? (at the moment, by survey, they do).

Noah replied...

1.) Just claiming that your models are accurate does not make them accurate, neither does saying that you've verified them mean that they are true, neither does saying that you've used a procedure that has verified one set of conclusions mean that they are capable of verifying yours.

In any case, you all are making a "est ergo est" argument that's never going to get you closer to convincing me of your argument. Moreover, you're STILL dodging the crucial issue. What proof to you have of a CAUSAL relationship? I'm still seeing nothing more than "proof by association", which, of course, is no proof at all.

Of course YOU all may feel that your data, assumptions, processes and conclusions all line up, but they don't for me. Just saying that they line up because they do is highly unconvincing.

2b.) Let me alter my phrasing to get what I'm looking for. We agree that in various places, the Earth's climate has a higher average temperature. The question is "why"? So far, from you scientists (who I assume are the IPCC type), I've only ever heard that carbon dioxide that man has produced is the sole cause. How do you know there aren't other causes? How do you know (not just making hypothesis, I'm talking natural conclusions of theories) that stopping CO2 emissions will stop all global warming? Why is your solution to the problem actually going to fix the problem? If the only answer is "because we believe it will" (even if it is slightly more complex on the outside), then you're once again trying to convince me with an "ad nauseum" style fallacy. I'm not going to believe in you guys just because you tell me your opinion.

2c.) I don't believe it will do anything because I don't believe that the policies will affect behaviors that will have a result that works towards an end goal. Paying clowns to facepaint every person in America doesn't fit into a strategy of freeing America from dependence on foreign oil, just as I don't believe that doing things like CO2 will prevent immanent, worldwide ecological disaster.

3.) Yes, I believe that creating a mass hysteria is your best strategy. As Hitler once said, that if you say it loud enough and long enough, people will eventually believe it. Of course, that clearly isn't working with me, but people as a group are far more gullible, and, as they ultimately hold the strings of power, I'd say that you're best bet for real results is a mass brainwashing campaign. Perhaps you could make a movie, or get the media on your side or some other form of propoganda?

Matt replied...

1) It is true. Rather than simply staking a claim without solid reasoning, our report shows our model to be both valid and consistent with historic data. Unless you don't believe our calculations are correct, or unless you believe that the underlying theory about model proving is incorrect, then we don't understand your response.

2b) There are many causes to the current rise in global temperature, and we predict this trend to hold steady for many years to come. First, note that our data is not location-specific; it is an average of world temperature, and so discounts regional variation. Simply because one country of the world is hotter than it was last year is not enough data to warrant a reasonable conclusion. Next, there are several greenhouse gases that would cause an increase in temperature, including carbon dioxide. Methane, CH4, for instance, is several times more effective at absorbing heat than CO2. However, there is significantly less methane than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and isn't the main contributor the rise of temperature. As well, CO2 concentrations have risen faster than other greenhouse gases in the last century, matching the trend of warming. Third, we have accounted for other causes in our model, such as solar radiance, and found them to be insignificant contributors to the warming trend. Finally, we offer you no solution nor a plan of action. We know that reducing the concentration of CO2 would help to lower the trend. How that might be possible is for you to decide.

2c) But certainly, you must admit that these data clearly show a warming trend! Our conclusion notes some possible consequences of this trend, extrapolated through the rest of this century. Some of these predictions may pan out and some may not. It is certain, however, that millions of people will be negatively affected by this global change by the processes that we know well. Reducing CO2 would be one way to deal with this trend by trying to reverse it. There are certainly other ways to deal with it. We leave such planning to you, the policymaker.

3) I don't think we can artificially create such hysteria. In our preparations for this meeting, we came across several incidences of ecological movements that were created in response to a horrible consequence of bad environmental practices. These consequences were certainly undesired, but few knew enough about the processes that created these effects to predict their outcome. Not until a disaster did a grass-roots movement form and convince the group responsible to change its ways. With global warming, we have advanced enough scientifically to be able to understand the process that causes it, well before many of the effects occur. With this knowledge, we can predict the consequences, and understand the causes before any disaster occurs. As with other harmful environmental events, it will take government intervention to deal with the warming trend, as only the government can pass the necessary laws to prevent it.

Noah replied...

1.) You're saying that you're correct because you're correct. Tautologies are terribly unconvincing.

2b.) But how do you know that these gasses are the primary cause of the problem? How do you know that mankind is the primary contributors of these gasses? How do you know what is a significant contributor and what isn't? How do you know that stopping CO2 increased will stop global warming? You note that warming trends have matched gas level risings, but once again, you're attempting proof by association. There are too many questions, if's, and's, and but's for this kind of shoddy, associative theorising to be convincing. Speculation, corroboration, and circumstantial evidence don't produce positive results in the legal system, and they don't either in science or in this office either.

2c.) Yes, I admit that there is a warming trend (although I actually don't believe 100% of the data I've seen, but that's another matter). Your extrapolations, if they happenstantially wind up to be correct would have negative rammifications. The direness of the consequenses of your predictions give no creedence to the factuality of your position.

3.) You guys being unable to cause a hysteria is due to a lack of PR, not any inherent weakness in your position. If Hitler could convince the entire population of Germany that the Jews were responsible for Germany's loss in World War One (a patent falsehood), than you can do the same. In fact, it should be easier because there are data points involved, and numbers always make things look more convincing (thus the reason we keep doing statistics).

Matt replied...

1. No, we're not. Why do you think we are?

2b. We know the fundamental causes of atmospheric warming in general. The sun's energy becomes trapped in the atmosphere, heating the planet, and allowing for life to form. We know the method by which this energy is converted into heat, and the changes that various chemicals undergo when that happens. We know what parts of the atmosphere can absorb which kinds of energies. We know which chemicals react in what ways to those energies. Given this textbook of information, we can theorize that any kind of atmospheric warming is primarily related to the level carbon dioxide in that atmosphere. To prove or disprove this hypothesis, we have performed small-scale experiments which indicate a strong correlation between carbon dioxide levels and energy absorption. We also note several trends in the global world data that also corroborate the theory. For instance, there is more carbon dioxide in the northern hemisphere of our planet than in the southern. The temperature changes in the northern hemisphere have been far greater than in the southern. See our report for more such corroborations. Also, due to our extensive theoretical knowledge, we have attempted to explain the experimental warming trend via other mechanisms that might heat an atmosphere, but have been unable to create any scenario that corroborates with any observed results, including extra solar radiation.

We are not claiming that man has caused this trend. We are simply arguing that if the CO2 levels continue to rise as they have been, we predict a rise in global temperature, which would have bad consequences. Unfortunately, man will need to deal with this situation, regardless of its cause.

2c. If we believed we were wrong, we would not be having this conversation. Perhaps we might focus our energies on 2b, first, and then continue this section when we have discussed that at length?

3. But note that, even in this case, it took a political party that eventually gained government power to be able to enact real change in Germany. We assert that only governments can enact the kind of change that we think would be necessary to slow or reverse the rising temperature trend.

Noah replied...

You guys are saying "we're correct because we took the data, we validated our data, we took conclusions from our data, and we validated our own conclusions" is the same as "we're correct because we say that we're correct".

In the end, the only thing that you scientists are presenting me with is circumstantial evidence that you've "proven" by association. Unless you're going to actually say something against this, then I have no choice but to conclude that your theories are pure speculation (and don't just say "no they're not" as you're once again falling back on your tautology, namely, "it isn't because of the mere fact that we say it isn't").

At best, this line of reasoning is very weak, at worst, deeply flawed. Needless to say, I don't have time for all this conjecture. I have real legislation to attend to. Unless you're going to get to the heart of the matter, I'm going to have to ask you all to leave so that I can get some real work done.

Matt replied...

To take an interesting anecdote from history and apply it to now, let's say you're sitting on a hot oven. At the very first, you feel quite normal, but quickly start to burn your bottom. It is unreasonable to conclude that, if this continues, you're going to be severely hurt? This is an analogous scenario.

(But anyway, enough with this game. You've really explained to me what's going on in the two camps. Thanks!)

Noah replied...

You're welcome!