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To the Skeptics: Stay Focused on the Real Debate

In keeping tabs on the blogoshere lately, I’ve come across a growing cacophony of shouting and yelling about global warming. Both the myth of it and that it is the source of our imminent demise.

In James Howard Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency he describes the “cornucorpians” – those that believe human ingenuity will triumph over all (if there really is a problem in the first place) – and, at the other end of the spectrum, the “die-off” crowd – thinking that it’s already too late.

Then there is the huge mass in the middle that just doesn’t know what to think.

I have seen the issue of global warming and climate change move front and center in the public conscious, especially within the past year or two. While much of the credit of popularizing these issues goes to Al Gore and his documentary An Inconvenient Truth it occurs to me that the world around us may have a little to do with it as well – things seem to be changing.

It should be no surprise to anyone that I lean toward the “die-off” crowd. I do not believe that it is too late, but I am concerned that it may soon well be – especially if we continue razing the earth unabated.

I have nothing in particular against Al Gore, nor am I an apologist for him. My concern is the polarization he seems to engender, and how the focus of the debate slips to a single divisive figure – even if unintentionally. As I ranted on in a recent post, Al Gore didn’t invent global warming (and Hollywood would do well to refrain from calling itself “green”).

Much that I see now in the blogs only serves to rouse emotional, reactionary responses based on muddled thinking, if truly thinking at all. By focusing on Al, or a Godless liberal agenda, or Barbara Streisand’s air-conditioned barn (unless somebody’s pulling my leg), or a socialist, anti-capitalist conspiracy, or whatever, I fear we lose site of the central issue: Earth and the sustainability of modern civilization as it is now cast. It seems foolish to me to assume that we do not have a responsibility to consider seriously the consequences of our actions on the health of the sustaining planet upon which we live.

A natural cycle is no longer natural when inputs from human activity are added to the equation. No sane person can deny that those human inputs now exist in the climate system.

There is, it seems to me, a grand experiment currently underway with our atmosphere. What we believe the consequences will be and what we ought to do about it should be subject to a reasoned debate.

Any argument consists of certain parts: a claim, evidence by which that claim is inferred, and warrants for the evidence used to infer proof of the claim. Very few of us think about debate, rhetoric, and argumentation in these terms, but they are there nonetheless; as long as it is a debate in which there is any hope of agreement or, more realistically in this case, finding common ground. Otherwise, it is simply dogs yapping at each other.

And what I hear from many begins to sound like little yapping dogs yipping at the heals of those to whom they do not agree, saying nothing, making much noise.

I don’t claim to be as smart as some of the self-proclaimed Einsteins populating the blogosphere, but I suggest that a reasonable debate starts when each party is willing to at least entertain the idea of accepting an opposing position. Of really listening. Of not assuming that any person with a viewpoint other than you own is bad, or immoral, or anything at all except a person with a viewpoint other than your own. Perhaps of even taking the opposing point of view and living with it for awhile. What better way to then disprove it if you can?

I need to do this too, and I know it’s hard. That’s the rub. This isn’t a simple subject. It seems as if too many people want to make it so and quickly dismiss it as coming from crazy, Godless liberals or junk scientists, and just as quickly sticking their heads back into the sand and going back to their lives of largesse.

There are valid points to be made for restraint from rushing to any foregone conclusion about what will happen to Earth’s climate in the coming decades and what we should do about it. Projecting climate trends and constructing climate models is almost unbelievably complex. That is no reason to ignore it, scoff at it, or not take it very, very seriously. And to take prudent action to insure against the worst plausible outcome. That’s why people buy homeowners insurance isn’t it? What then is the Earth to us?

I am no scientist, but I am curious, read voraciously, have taken college level courses in climate science (since I publish a blog about global warming, I take it as a responsibility to try to inform myself on the subject), and most importantly, I was raised by a father who actually worked as an environmental resource planner for the federal government. I was raised to respect and treasure the natural environment.

I’m not here to jump on any bandwagon, as so many people now are, either “for” or “against”. Most people are latecomers to the issue of global warming and, frankly, have barely gotten up to speed around it before they’ve made up and closed their minds. And that goes for everybody clinging to the fringes of this debate.

It’s time to have that reasoned debate, to do the hard work of really trying to understand the issue and what is at stake.

Otherwise, it all starts to sound to me like little dogs yapping.

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