Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The climates, they are a changing...

Here's a brief anecdote that nicely sums up how my mind works. A decade studying Neuroscience will not leave you unscathed.
Before Christmas, I was at the pub meeting a friend. The freezing conditions had been in effect for about two days, there was ice everywhere and I'd been particularly careful about where I was walking.
Several drinks and a drop of about 10 degrees later, my caution was lessened somewhat. I left by the pub by the back entrance (stop looking for a metaphor, there isn't one), which ends in a noticeable downward gradient that I didn't notice. I blithely stepped onto this ice-covered slope and promptly did one of those all time classic falls. Legs flying out, arms windmilling madly, before thumping down with great force onto my standard-sized arse.
I instantly lost all feeling in my lower body. And it's telling that my fist thought was 'Oh my God! I'm Paralysed!'. I lay there gasping, convinced I'd snapped my spinal cord and desperately wracking my brain for what I could remember about motor neurone damage, spinal trauma, whether or not I had any contacts investigating stem cell repair or regenerative therapies, even wondering if the artificial neurones research I'd read about in New Scientist in 1998 had progressed any further to the point of human trials. At worst, I was planning how I'd manage on a day-to-day basis in a wheelchair, with images of myself as the Stephen Hawking of the Neuroscience comedy scene (current membership = me).
Then the numbness faded, and the pain appeared. It was very cold on the icy concrete, hence the numb feeling. I'd not broken anything, just given myself a massive wallop on the backside, and got to my feet, alternatively laughing and stifling screams .
I was planning physiotherapy and mentally volunteering for experimental treatments where most people would say 'ouch'.

A hideously over-the-top conclusion caused by a very brief encounter with the icy conditions. Sound familiar? Those of us following the news in Britain will have seen similar things recently (See what I did there?). The climate change sceptics have been asking "how can global warming be happening when it's so cold?", to the utter bafflement of the climate campaigners.

This overlooks the fact that climate and weather aren't the same thing, but if they're making the ridiculous statement in the first place then this fact will mean nothing to them.

This is a rather surreal example of one of the many arguments against climate change. There are several valid ones of course, and the worlds climate being the chaotic system it is there can never be certainty. But where's the fun in analysing valid arguments? There are plenty of others to choose from

Rather than go over the evidence like everyone else does, I thought I'd analyse the possible logic and reasoning behind the arguments people make to deny climate change.

A Liberal Conspiracy
Some of the most vocal and vociferous climate sceptics say the whole thing is a liberal conspiracy. These woolly, hand-wringing bleeding heart liberals apparently have regular monthly meetings and have decided that concocting a decades-long international scam would be the best way to... to...um... prevent proper people from driving oversized cars, and stuff like that. But then, anything that goes against the natural instinct to 'look out for number one' is the fault of liberals. Why change your self-indulgent behaviour when you can blame the liberals? And the gays, they're in on it too. And the commies, of course. In fact, anyone except me is a complete bastard and deserves to die anyway, so climate change, which isn't real, would be a good thing. If it existed. Which it doesn't.
Have I just provided an unfair and massively simplistic analysis of a complex argument based on nothing more than prejudice and knee-jerk reactions? Of course I have. It's quite fun actually, I can see why people would prefer that to actually thinking about things.

A Stealth Tax
Some people argue that environmental policies overstate the problem of climate change in order to secretly raise taxes. Every major government in the world is in on this. Normally they'd just raise taxes the usual way; Blatantly and legally. But this one is different because it's secret. These governments, which frequently change and were seemingly unable to stop a global economic meltdown, are nevertheless organised enough to keep this conspiracy going across the whole planet for a number of decades. Or is that the liberals again? It's hard to keep up.

We're not that Significant
Refuge in inadequacy, the belief that we as a race are seriously overstating the impact we have, ergo there's no reason to change what we're doing. I also think of this as 'The Clarkson Defence', seeing as how Jeremy Clarkson compares our CO2 output to sticking a pin in an elephants foot. A seemingly valid claim given the immensity of our planet, but based on a flawed premise. (And I also find it interesting that the people who find it arrogant to think the human race, even acting in unison, could affect something as big and complex as the atmosphere are the same people who believe a relatively small group of people could build something THAT COULD DESTROY THE ENTIRE PLANET COMPLETELY BY ACCIDENT!!)
If you ripped the atmosphere off our planet, every living thing on it would die. And you'd be some sort of God, but never mind that now. But if you then put the atmosphere back on the planet, the concoction of gasses that make it up wouldn't just return to the way it was before. Or if it did, it certainly wouldn't stay that way for long. The atmosphere is only semi-stable, relying on complex interacting processes (many of which depend on living things) to exist in it's current state. Going back to Clarkson's example, it's more like an elephant standing on a small table; It's fine as long as it can consciously keep it's balance. But start aggravating it (i.e. Stick pins in it's feet) and it might lose it's balance and adopt 'a more stable arrangement'. And flatten anyone in the way.
Not the most subtle metaphor, but an apt one I feel.

It's natural
Some people argue that CO2 can't be harmful because it's natural, like bears, arsenic, Ebola and avalanches. Slightly more level-headed is the view that climate change IS occurring, but is part of a natural fluctuation in the planets temperature, which has occurred many times in the past. Potentially true, but if it is, surely that's an even better argument for cutting CO2 output? You don't open the sunroof when driving in a downpour, that just makes the problem worse. So why contribute to the greenhouse effect when the planets heating up anyway? If another giant asteroid was heading to Earth, would people prefer to try and stop it, or would they prefer that we draw a giant bullseye around the predicted impact site with nuclear bomb craters?
Just because it's not your fault doesn't mean you won't be hit with the fallout.

Plants will benefit
Another, more subtle argument is that the rising CO2 causes bigger and better plants and trees which suck it back up again. This only really works, though, if your assume that plants are the chief cause of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. Which they aren't, not at all (Rocks and oceans are two other major players here). But it can't hurt, right? We get bigger plants like trees and they compensate for our CO2 output more, surely.
Indeed, unless we do something stupid like, oh, I don't know, cut them down at an alarmingly increasing rate in order to make flat pack furniture and leaflets denouncing climate change.

It's the Illuminati!
Climate change is another series of conspiracies instituted by the New World Order, a secretive group of people who are actually giant lizards in disguise. This blog is long enough already, so I won't bother explaining what's wrong about this theory. But a tip for anyone who finds them self under the control of a giant lizard; simply stove it's head in with a heavy object while it's warming up. But then, if you've allowed yourself to be bested by a creature that needs to spend half it's waking time in a warm location in order to get it's body temperature to a useful level, then perhaps thinking for yourself isn't your forte.

So yeah. Hopefully I'll get some bile-spewing ravings in the comment section for this. Sadly, overall I think a main contributor to climate change is the CO2 exhaled arguing with the people who are adamant that it isn't happening.

Twitter: @garwboy


1 comment:

M'dame Jo said...

I discovered your blog through Sciencebase on twitter. This is brilliant. Funny and smart. Now I'll have to read all the archives. You officially destroyed my last illusions of being productive today.

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