Archive for March, 2007

Five strategies for debating global warming and environmentalism

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I held a debate on environmentalism last month, which included a climate scientist as well as traditional evangelical environmentalists. Not surprisingly, the discussion quickly bogged down on the issue of global warming. My experience as a layperson taking a stand against a coalition of true believers and technical specialists presented some lessons on arguing against environmentalism.

1.) Focus on your strengths

Global warming can be argued on several levels. You could argue that

  1. There’s insufficient evidence for a long-term warming trend
  2. The earth’s warming is not historically significant
  3. The warming is not anthropogenic
  4. The benefits of a warmer earth exceed the costs
  5. Stopping warming is economically impractical or undesirable
  6. Implementing government controls is the wrong response to climate change.

Each response requires knowledge in a different field – climatology, paleoclimatology, environmental geography, economics, and politics. Unless you’re an expert in one of those fields, you should not make them central to your position. You should also avoid original research or original arguments in them.

For example, I have read arguments by amateurs whose entire position centers around whether humans contribute to CO2 levels, and whether that contribution affects climate. For example, human CO2 output is 5.53% of the CO2 related greenhouse gases, and 0.28% of the total greenhouses gases. These numbers are not widely disputed – but the difference that .28% percent makes is. Are you prepared to discuss such details? Unless you’re a climatologist, don’t make it the crux of your position.

There is a crucial field you cannot avoid – epistemology. The issue of scientific methodology as well as the means by which reputable research is recognized is crucial, and you should become thoroughly familiar with it, since the use of junk science, non-scientific claims, and the misuse of valid claims is one of the major problems of the environmentalist movement.

My recommendation for non-experts is to establish that the actual climate predictions from alarmists are moderate, and then focus on how individuals are best equipped to deal with them. This sidesteps the complex technical issues of climatology, and creates an opportunity to educate the audience on capitalism.

2.) Start with a concession

Not every argument made against global warming strengthens your case. Decide beforehand which claims you want to argue, which are unsupported, and which ones you’re not qualified to argue. Here are the concessions I made when arguing my case:

  • Humans contribute to CO2 levels
  • The earth has gotten slightly warmer during the 20th century
  • I’m not qualified to debate whether anthropogenic CO2 contributes to global warming

Conceding arguments which are not central to my position shifts the debate to areas I’m strong on.

Not everyone who shares your position is an ally: there is a widespread perception that climate change skeptics are dominated by religious fundamentalists and corporate interests. There is some truth to the former, while the latter is reversed – 99% of corporate funds -even from oil companies – goes to support environmentalism rather than capitalism. You should dissociate yourself from either group, and respond to ad-hominem attacks by identifying them as such.

3.) Look at the big picture

I’ve seen many arguments about climate change devolve to endless factual disputes over details neither side really understands. This problem is inherent in disputes within scientific fields without a well established methodology. It’s impossible to make conclusions about global trends based on local or short-term observations, yet local and short term observations are all we have to build global models. In practice, this means that debate over factual details should be reserved to the experts.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t challenge absurd claims. If someone claims that the temperature will rise 10 degrees, and oceans will rise 20 feet in the next 100 years, you can point out that temperature rose at less than 1 degree in the 20th century, and oceans are rising at 1-3mm per year according to the alarmists themselves.

However there are broader and more important issues, such as the ability of humans to respond to climate changes, the gullibility of the public and policymakers in accepting absurd and unscientific doomsday scenarios, and the need for cost/benefit analysis when advocating policy changes. The major problem with environmentalism comes from the moral opposition to industrial civilization, not bad science. The scientific process tends to correct bad ideas in the long run, whereas environmentalism generates a torrent of new crises, intellectually crippled students, and bad policies.

4.) Site your sources

Evangelical environmentalists are rarely concerned with facts, and they will often try to hide their exaggeration with rhetoric. For example, In “Inconvenient Truth“, Al Gore claims a 12ft sea level rise, whereas the IPCC itself gives a maximum of 23 inches. You should be prepared to counter this rhetoric with reality – and this requires citing sources. This is especially important in offline debates, where the urge to exaggerate claims is much stronger. I prepared a number of documents and PowerPoint slides for my debate that I did not show during my talk. When responded that my claim that the U.S has more trees now than 100 years ago is absurd, I was able to whip out charts from the U.S. Forest Service backing my claim.

5.) Beware of sophistry

There are a number of logical fallacies commonly used in environmentalist rhetoric. You should be familiar with them and be ready to identify them to your audience. Here are descriptions of the ones I’ve come across – their usage should be easy to recognize:

See also my “One Minute Case Against Global Warming Alarmism

'We want this baby polar bear dead' say animal rights lobby

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Digg: Tiny, fluffy and adorable, Knut the baby polar bear became an animal superstar after he was abandoned by his mother. Animal rights activists argue that he should be given a lethal injection rather than brought up suffering “the humiliation of being treated as a domestic pet.”

read more | digg story

"Animal rights" activists versus animal lovers

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In 2005, I wrote about the cruel and unjust tactics of the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Today I came across a 2006 story which demonstrates their power-mad tactics, ignorance, and disregard for the actual well-being of animals.

Expedition highlighting global warming called off due to extreme cold

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A North Pole expedition meant to bring attention to global warming was called off after one of the explorers got frostbite. The explorers, Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen, on Saturday called off what was intended to be a 530-mile trek across the Arctic Ocean after Arnesen suffered frostbite in three of her toes, and extreme cold temperatures drained the batteries in some of their electronic equipment.

“Ann said losing toes and going forward at all costs was never part of the journey,” said Ann Atwood, who helped organize the expedition.

Record cold temperatures in one part of the world aren’t conclusive evidence that global warming isn’t happening. However I can think of a few lessons this episode could teach:

  • The climate is inherently variable, unstable, and unpredictable

The explorers “were prepared to don body suits and swim through areas where polar ice has melted.”  Instead “outside temperatures were exceeding 100 below zero.”
We didn’t  blame the record number of ice storms this winter on a new ice age.  So why does the media pretend that any warm weather is “proof” of global warming?
If you can’t predict the temperature of a single trek, how can you predict the next 100 years?

  • Humans are much better equipped to deal with hot temperatures than cold ones.

The natural population of Antarctica is 0, while people have lived in Death Valley and the Sahara desert for thousands of years, (and even built cities).  By comparison to the South Pole, Sarah is a veritable rainforest.

  • Nature is deadly without the proper technology.

The explorers blamed the frostbite on damaged snowshoes, which are an essential tool of survival in the arctic wilderness -just as industry is essential to our survival in civilization.

Random reason quote on your Google Homepage

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Do you use Google’s Personalized Homepage? You can add my random quote widget to your page. Just click “Add Stuff”, “Add by URL” and add this URL: http://quotes.rationalmind.net/random.php?format=gadget

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The AARP’s "commitment to all generations" ad campaign is dishonest and hypocritical

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Have you seen the AARP’s latest ad campaign? It shows a series of children who urge us to take action on the “five core needs” of AARP: “the need for health; the need for financial security; the need to contribute or give back to society; the need for community and to stay connected to family, friends and social networks; and the need to play and enjoy life.” The children imply that the policies advocated by the AARP will benefit future generations. The reality is that the policies the AARP advocates are not just wrong, but are viciously dishonest in harming the very people they claim to champion.

The AARP started out as a program for selling insurance to retirees. After the government investigated its non-profit status in the 1990′s, it changed its focus to political advocacy. Rather than sell insurance to seniors, it now advocates policies which force everyone else to pay for their member’s expenses. Our government will not allow AARP to sell products to members and still call itself non-profit, but it has no problem with AARP’s advocacy of policies which provide “benefits” directly to AARP’s members. These “benefits” can only come at the expense of working people and claims on the future income of children – the very groups the current ad campaign claims to champion.

Contrary to the claims of better ties between older people and the community, the welfare policies the AARP advocates create division and bitterness. Working young people hold no delusions about the “benefits” that programs like Social Security and Medicare promise. Even if these ponzi schemes pay out, they return a pittance compared to voluntary investments and waste a huge portion of the confiscated funds on bureaucratic waste and unrelated projects.

The AARP’s lobbyists know that our welfare system will go bankrupt as baby boomers retire – but they staunchly oppose efforts to reform it. They want to milk as much as possible from working people for as long as possible – regardless of the hostility and division it will create when today’s children and young adults are forced to pay for the living and healthcare expenses of a growing retired population.

The alienation experienced by many retired people is a real problem – but its cause is the very policies that organizations like the AARP advocate. Instead of fostering responsible investing, financial independence, long-term planning, and mutual support of family members, the welfare state replaces individual decision making with central planning, family members with an intrusive nanny state, and individual responsibility with faith in the omnipotent state to provide for all needs.

The policies the AARP advocates to solve the “needs” of its members are a claim of ownership over the lives of the very people its commercials claim to champion. Contrast the socialist policies implied by their commercials to the capitalist model of the ads of financial companies: instead of stealing your future from working people, we will help you turn the fruit of your own productivity into wealth. Which one is just?

Digg: Boston police blow up more "suspicious boxes"

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Thanks to the Boston Police bomb squad, this is one traffic counter box that won’t get a chance to kill anyone. (This is after the city claimed to spend a $1 million blowing up LED advertisements for Comedy Central.) Notice how the media plays along by using terms like “disarm.”

read more | digg story

Socialism doesn't work in a non-authoritarian system either

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When confronted with the universal failure of socialism to achieve the material prosperity and social equality it promised, socialists do one of three things: they pretend the evidence doesn’t exist, they claim that socialist governments do not represent “true” Marxism-Leninism, or they change their philosophy to reject material success: environmentalism.  With the failure of the Soviet bloc, and increasing signs of the instability of European welfare states, the remaining socialists often point to voluntary communes as examples of “successful” collectivism.

The Israeli kibbutz was one of the most prominent and benign forms of voluntary collectivism in the 20th century.  Benign – because, unlike socialist prison states, they existed in a mostly free nation, and the members were free to leave.  However, even voluntary forms of collectivism have faced universal disaster.  Two thirds of Israeli kibbutzes have voted to privatize, as the Christian Science Monitor writes, and more are continuing to do so.  They remaining ones persist mainly because of massive government subsidies.

Has the universal failure of the utopian socialist dream forced its advocates to change their philosophy?

“The kibbutz was an attempt to create a miracle and transcend human nature. By trying to create a miracle, the kibbutz was instinctively seen by Jews as a worthy symbol of the miraculous return to Zion,” says Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalem Institute.

“We’re so past the point of being shocked by the decline of the collectivist dream that this isn’t a moment that took anyone by surprise. Nevertheless there’s poignancy…. We’ve lost something precious and essential in what defines Israeliness,” he says.

What remains of the kibbutz ethic of self-sacrifice, activism, and egalitarianism is unclear. In Israel’s high-tech economy, do the old kibbutzes have a role to play?

Rogalin says that their role will be to cultivate a quality education system that will teach children values of social justice. And with a safety net for members, the kibbutz hopes to remain a model of social welfare in a society with a large gap between rich and poor.

Whatever the decision, founder Mr. Katz knows that the ideals upon which Gaash was founded are no longer attainable. “At my age, I’ve reached the conclusion that humans are egotists, and like to keep things for themselves rather than the general public,” he says. “The idea that everyone will eat from the same plate doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve done my part. It’s over. We aren’t an example for anyone.”

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