Thursday, January 5, 2017
“What if Climate Change Causes More CO2?”
“What if Climate Change Causes More CO2?”
by Scott Adams
“Let me start this post by restating that I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change. I’m not a scientist and I have no tools to evaluate the credibility of those who are. As far as I can tell, the arguments on both sides are totally credible. I can’t tell them apart. So I default to agreeing with the experts, not so much because I believe experts are likely to be right in this case, but because there are extreme social and economic penalties for being a climate “denier.” So I’m not one. I’m just a non-scientist who would like to understand this situation better.
And one of my ignorant questions is whether we have the causation right. On one hand, basic science tells us that more CO2 in the atmosphere should cause warming. And according to the consensus view of climate scientists, it is. The graphs of CO2 seem to match the graphs of warming. Therefore, logically, CO2 causes warming. A separate debate is whether the CO2 warming is enough to be a problem or it simply exists. Forget that for now. I’m just talking about the direction of causation.
As a non-scientist, I assume human beings have some sort of temperature range that is optimal for energy and economics. I also assume that there are natural cycles of warming or cooling independent from CO2, at least historically. So we’re probably always warming or cooling. We’re never staying the same. And that means sometimes we are heading toward optimal human temperatures and sometimes away.
Now suppose the Earth’s temperature was already in the good range for humans, but it was getting even better according to a natural cycle. That better temperature would – I assume – increase human activity in ways that (wait for it) contribute to CO2. If the economy is good, we build more industry and create more CO2. If the causation works in that direction, the heat of the world and the CO2 levels would be correlated. But the cause in this scenario is the warmth, not the CO2.
None of this means we shouldn’t be worried about rising CO2. The science says more CO2 means more warming. That’s just physics. And at some point we have to assume the planet gets TOO warm, and economic activity will suffer. And when the economy suffers, CO2 could drop, assuming the economy goes into decline. At the very least I think you have to agree that the causation is two-way.
When people tell me to “do my own research” on climate change and reach my own conclusions, I think those people have no understanding of how the human mind works. No matter how much research I do on my own, a real climate scientist will still know things that I don’t know I don’t know. If I do my own research on climate science, all I will know in the end is what I do know. And that’s not enough for any kind of credible evaluation. The stuff I don’t know could easily be more important than the things I do know. One would need to live in a particular industry, the way a climate scientist does, to have any confidence that all the important variables are being considered.
Consider how basic my question is today. As a non-scientist, I can’t even tell if scientists have the causation right. My layperson’s brain says correlation is not causation, and humans have a long history of confusing the two. And while climate scientists might have perfectly good explanations for why the causation is primarily one-directional, it isn’t obvious to me. (You can explain it to me in the comments.)
I realize that people want to know which “side” I’m on. But apparently I’m on my own side. My view is that climate scientists are more likely right than not, but the quality of their persuasion is worse than that of the skeptics on this topic. I don’t know the underlying facts. But persuasion-wise, the skeptics have a big advantage.
Remember how I taught you that Trump’s linguistic kill shots had a special quality that allowed them to strengthen over time thanks to confirmation bias? Every time Ted Cruz said something that didn’t pass the fact-checking you remembered his "Lyin’ Ted" nickname. And every time someone accused Clinton of crooked dealings you were reminded of her "Crooked Hillary" nickname. Climate change has the same dynamic. Every time it snows the non-scientists of the world look out the window and experience confirmation bias that global “warming” isn’t happening. Sure, it’s usually called climate “change” now, and most people know that. But to the under-informed that change in preferred wording just looks suspicious.
Climate scientists might be right that CO2 will cause catastrophic warming. And fear is a great persuader. But this particular fear is a bit abstract. It isn’t like a nuclear bomb that can kill us all instantly. Climate worries are in the unpredictable future and won’t affect everyone the same way. Persuasion-wise, the climate scientists only have facts and prediction models to make their case. And what are the weakest forms of persuasion known to humankind?
Facts and prediction models. And how are climate scientists trying to solve this problem? Mostly by providing more facts and more prediction models. And by demonizing the critics. The net effect of all that is to systematically reduce their own credibility over time, even if they are right about everything.
I think you see the problem.”