Aug
18
2012

"Apocalypse Not."

That is the title of a slightly surprisingly good article from Wired, slamming the stunningly bad track record of various groups when it comes to predictions of looming catastrophe - and that 'surprisingly good' is not meant to be a reflection on the magazine; more like a reflection on the oddity of finding people willing to deprive our modern apocalyptic cultists of their 'fun' via the administration of objective reality.  Besides, author Matt Ridley is to be commended for taking the next logical step of bringing up global warming, particularly since the first batch of Great Prophecies of Climate Change DOOM are past their sell-by date (Ridley even calls out IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri for declaring in '07 that '12 was the 'tipping point'). 

Just... one quibble.

...should we worry or not about the warming climate? It is far too binary a question. The lesson of failed past predictions of ecological apocalypse is not that nothing was happening but that the middle-ground possibilities were too frequently excluded from consideration. In the climate debate, we hear a lot from those who think disaster is inexorable if not inevitable, and a lot from those who think it is all a hoax. We hardly ever allow the moderate “lukewarmers” a voice: those who suspect that the net positive feedbacks from water vapor in the atmosphere are low, so that we face only 1 to 2 degrees Celsius of warming this century; that the Greenland ice sheet may melt but no faster than its current rate of less than 1 percent per century; that net increases in rainfall (and carbon dioxide concentration) may improve agricultural productivity; that ecosystems have survived sudden temperature lurches before; and that adaptation to gradual change may be both cheaper and less ecologically damaging than a rapid and brutal decision to give up fossil fuels cold turkey.

The 'lukewarmers' actually do have a voice; it's just that we've mostly discovered that the only place where we can be heard is over on the climate skeptic side.  I know a lot of skeptics who qualify as 'lukewarmers' - in fact, I suspect that if you go to a climate skeptic conference and poll the attendees you will find that pretty much everyone will agree with at least one lukewarming position up there, and that a majority might even agree with all of them.  Frankly, it would not shock me to hear that we're seeing something like the Medieval Warm Period; but it would probably shock the climate change people to hear that I am not upset about the planet becoming slightly warmer and wetter.  Which is to say, 'slightly more hospitable to life.'

I note all of this because, as was said earlier, the first set of Predictions of DOOM on the climate are coming false.  I expect to be whaling on the expression bad climate science predictions in popular media for, well, the rest of my life...

Moe Lane

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