The environmentalist debate is not a game of whack-a-mole

I’ve spent a lot of time living in traditional “red” states as well as traditional “blue” states. I feel I moved to California from the midwest at exactly the right point in my path of personal growth, because I can look at the positions of the people on both sides of the debate and see the glaring holes in their logic.

I don’t claim to be a super-genius. Nor do I claim to be unbiased. I find myself repeating this over and over again because I habitually write with a certain air of omnipotent authority… even when I’m wrong. On the other hand, at least I can where I’ve likely got a bias and at least do simple things like read about the other side.

One of my friends posted a YouTube link that I’m not going to dignify with a link. The video was a twenty year old Mr. Wizard episode that the poster claimed “disproved the Climate Change Fraud”. And my friend fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

Briefly, the experiment setup was that the kid filled a glass with ice and water, such that the glass was filled to the very top and a plate placed underneath it, such that if the water flowed over the edge of the glass, it would collect on the plate. The kid was asked to posit a theory, where she decided that the water would overflow. Mr. Wizard pointed out equally valid theories of why the water level might drop or stay level. The water stayed level.

The person posting the video invites the viewer to assume that this means that, if we melt the ice caps, that the sea levels won’t rise.

Except that it doesn’t. See, if you make even the littlest amount of research into the theory of where the water will come from, you’ll find that they understand this quite well, which enables them to simplify their model. The melting of the ice shelves around the world isn’t considered as part of the rise in sea levels. The rise in sea levels comes first from water expanding, and then from continental ice shelves. Like in Greenland. So, showing that a glass of ice water doesn’t expand proves nothing. I figured this out after a few minutes of web searching.

There’s a certain intellectual dishonesty at play. I can understand it. The idea that we’ve been running up a tab on the environment that may come due is something that drives one to denial. We do it about little things like our credit card balance or that that noise coming from the hood will fix itself.

When you invent a counter-argument that falls apart with such a pedestrian amount of research, all you are doing is making this obvious. A counter-theory that worked out the snowpack levels and sea levels and explained it without suggesting that there’s ocean rise… especially one that is simpler… would show that the other side actually has some brains, instead of being a party of idiots.

But that’s not what I’m really getting at. Let’s assume that the theory that the sea level will rise really is wrong. Does this mean that nothing is wrong from the environment and we can go on living our lives without a care for the future? No, because this says nothing about global warming, nor does it disprove any of the other effects predicted for global warming like desertification or other weather changes. The emails stolen from one of the climate researchers, upon close examination, don’t disprove anything, just showing that scientists are just as catty as the rest of us. But, if there was a gem in those archives, it only serves to disprove the long-term trend, not the near-term hockey-stick chart. And maybe you can disprove global warming, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore other effects of CO2 like ocean acidification. And, if you can prove that the CO2 levels aren’t going up, you still have to account for the limited amount of fossil fuels left… and how a bunch of countries who really don’t like us seem to have a lot of oil that we rely upon.

In other words, if you intellectually reduce yourself to this level, it’s a game of whack-a-mole. An environmental scientist posits a theory, you come up with a poorly-thought-out argument for how it doesn’t work. Eventually either a different mole pops up or they find new evidence that shows how stupid your first rejection was.

This is one of the reasons why college educated people, especially with advanced degrees, tend to not consider themselves Republican. Whack-a-mole arguments are pornography for the weak minded.

Personally, the sea level rising does not scare me. There’s clearly not enough water that the Earth will look like Waterworld. We’ll build walls around Venice and build bigger walls around New Orleans. Life will go on. If you investigate the research, you’ll find the theory that we’ve already been seeing a rise in the sea level but that increasing water retention in reservoirs and the like is offsetting that. So there’s probably larger scale projects that will make the sea level problem go away, if the rise-in-sea-level people are right. It comes at a fiscal cost and requires us to make hard decisions. Is a fifty year old house below sea level worth saving? How about a hundred year old house once owned by somebody of importance? Do we save all of New Orleans or just the good parts? Or maybe we’ll just enlarge reservoirs at the same rate as the continental ice shelves shrink.

Sea-level rise and other dramatic climate changes are visceral. If you say “OMG! WATERWORLD!” it’s pretty much left-wing pornography for the weak minded, where the only thing that makes it any better than posting ancient Mr. Wizard videos is that it’s at least grounded in science. But it’s not helping matters, either.

My opinion, as always, is that we have licked large-scale problems without going back to the dark ages. But it takes a lot of people recognizing that their bullshit proofs that the environment isn’t going to change doesn’t make the problem go away, any more than telling the girl you just knocked up that she’s not pregnant makes her not pregnant.