March 30, 2007

ClimateChange Orthodoxy

Happy to see a thoughtful editorial in today's Burlington Free Press about climate change with recognition that the doomsdayers have invested in their scenario as a matter of faith rather than with a reasoned approach to the issue. The lack of knowledge of science and panic by many swept up in the hysteria sponsored by politicians and some of the media overwhelms clear thinking.

Using less energy from tradition sources is a good thing on many fronts, as the editorial suggests. The cost of alternatives and who pays is the key issue. People deserve the right to make decisions for themselves, not have taxes and restrictions placed on them by politicians (and some scientists) who often have other agendas, based not on climate science and evidence, but on faith, philosophies and world views. That's not freedom, nor good public policy.

(The full editorial is shown below because the Free Press does not make its content available for long periods.)

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Editorial: Examining orthodoxy serves science well

March 30, 2007
In the best debates, both sides learn something about not only the opposing view, but about their own position, too. But a healthy debate needs at least two sides and a willingness to listen to those who might have a different opinion.

S. Fred Singer brought his skepticism about what is rapidly becoming the common wisdom, that human activity is driving climate change, to the University of Vermont campus Wednesday in a talk sponsored by Lake Champlain International, a group best known for its fishing derbies.

Singer probably changed few minds, if any, but he did stir debate in public and in person. That in itself is a critical service. When an orthodoxy threatens to overwhelm any subject -- especially in the sciences -- there's nothing like an opposing view to spur the search for knowledge.

After all, why keep asking questions if we already know it all?

For the most part, the popular debate on climate change has left the realm of science -- if it ever was there in the first place -- and has become about faith. That's inevitable seeing as few of us have the scientific expertise to analyze, let alone collect, the data upon which global-warming theories are based. That leaves us to put our faith in one set of scientists over another.

Too often both sides, smug in their own world view, fail to examine their basic assumptions, instead waving "facts" and "research" that back their views. As anyone who has done even a little research on the Internet knows, you can Google your way to justify just about any position.

That there's room for doubt doesn't mean that we should sit back and wait for conclusive evidence, one way or another, before taking action. Even if the human impact on climate change turns out to be negligible, many of the measures that target global warming have other benefits -- decreased reliance on foreign oil, lower heating bills and reduced air pollution -- that warrant adoption, even on a "just in case" basis. Who should bear the cost is another matter.

But to argue that the debate has been settled is to say that there's no need for further inquiry, a position that should be anathema to any true scientist or anyone else truly interested in seeing science serve the common good.

The Greek playwright Euripides said, "Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing." That's because when you have the answers, you stop asking questions and stop learning. When it comes to the future of our planet, we can't afford to ever stop asking questions.

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