Saturday, November 19, 2011

Climate does change

In about 2005 the advocates of a radical response to "global warming" apparently decided that talking about "climate change" would be more persuasive. In the current print edition of The Weekly Standard, Joseph Bottum and William Anderson explain why.
.... There’s a simple epistemological process by which, as we move up the genus-species tree, we arrive at ideas that cover more cases but convey less information: Lots more mammals exist in general than marmosets in particular, but mammal doesn’t tell us as much about the beast in question as marmoset does. Move up high enough into the linguistic arbor, and you arrive at terms that refer to all but mean none: thing, for example, or being.

Or climate change, as far as that goes. The great emotional gain of the shift from global warming to climate change was that the name had become so generic that nothing imaginable could prove it wrong. Every shift in weather is a confirming instance. The only problem left was the pesky little scientific one that, well, nothing imaginable could prove it wrong. In its public use, in the mouths of activists and the titles of organizations such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the phrase had come to describe something non-falsifiable. ....

.... In politics, the notion that climate change can’t be falsified — everything only serves to confirm it, nothing imaginable can contradict it — has been a marvelous boon. In science, the fact that climate change can’t be falsified seems to prove, mostly, that climate change isn’t science: There’s no way to test for it, no way to quantify it, and no way to demonstrate it. ....

.... Perhaps the greatest reason for any of us to feel skepticism about climate change, however, is the unchanging politics of those who employed it to advance their agendas. Are we wrong to suspect that most global warming activists are merely using global warming as the latest in a long series of tools with which to demand fundamental changes in Western civilization?

Think of it this way: The premise of catastrophe produces the conclusion that the political and economic underpinnings of Western civilization must be discarded. Governments must take control of economies. Capitalism must give way. All decisions must be made by our scientific and political elite, for only they can save us from doom.

Now, in a purely logical world, the rejection of the premise would mean that we don’t have to accept the conclusion. If A, then B and not A together produce nothing. But the people who’ve been lecturing us for more than a decade now about global warming and climate change didn’t start by holding A. They began by holding B — the conclusion, the proposition that Western civilization must change. And it is, literally, a non-falsifiable proposition: If global warming and climate change help lead to it, then hurray for global warming and climate change. If not, well, then, they’ll find something else. ....
Joseph Bottum and William Anderson, "Unchanging Science: Among other things the global warming crusaders got wrong: skepticism is a virtue, not a vice," The Weekly Standard, November 28, 2011, pp. 26-29.