Thursday, December 10, 2009

Climate Change: The Three Percent Argument

I stated in an earlier post that the arguments used by the global warming deniers are of such poor quality that only a person who is indifferent to the potential destruction of whole cities and the misery of whole populations would use them.

I found one of those arguments recently used in an editorial on an extremely reliable source of indifference to the destruction of whole cities and the misery of whole populations, Fox News.

Greg Gutfeld wrote:

Let's start with CO2. Activists tell us that man-caused CO2 is creating global warming. However, only 3 percent of CO2 comes from people . . . So how come you don't hear about that? Because, you can't say that man is destroying the planet, once you realize man's impact is nil.

(See: Fox News, Too Big to Fail).

A morally responsible person would have gone to the effort to learn that human greenhouse gas emissions as a percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions is irrelevant. The relevant question to answer is the human concentration to the change in overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Yes, there is a lot of carbon moving back and forth between the atmosphere and other systems every year. Every year, for example, when it is spring time in the northern hemisphere leafing and growing plants take a lot of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Each year, during the fall and winter when they lose their leaves, they put that carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. The oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the oceans release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The quantities of carbon dioxide that go through these cycles is huge.

However, with all of this, for the past 10,000 years, the overall atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have stayed within a narrow band of between 260 parts per million (ppm) and 280 ppm. In short, nature takes out of the atmosphere as much CO2 as it puts in. Therefore, the net change over time from nature is zero.

Currently, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are nearly 400 ppm.

What accounts for this change in concentration over time?

It did not come from the natural cycle. It came from humans.

An analogy that I have used before begins by imaging a tub with, say, 280 cubic meters of water inside. The tub has countless pipes dumping huge amounts of water into the tub. It also has countless holes in it from which huge amounts of water escape. However, for the last 10,000 years with all of this water flooding in and out of the tub, the water volume has almost never gone below 260 cubic meters, or above 280 cubic meters - and even then, not by much.

Over the last few decades, however, the water volume has risen to 400 cubic meters.

The relevant question to ask is, "What changed?"

Well, humans opened a faucet that is now dumping 10 cubic meters of water into the tub every year. We measure the amount of water in the tub, and we see that the volume is increasing at a rate of 5 cubic meters per year. The rest of the water that we put into the tub leaks out through the holes.

This faucet may very well be only 3% of the total volume of water entering the tub. It may even be 0.03% of the total volume of water entering the tub. This does not matter. The faucet accounts for 100% of the change in the amount of water flowing into the tub and, as such, is responsible for 100% of the change in the volume of the water in the tub.

Furthermore, we know that if we were to turn the faucet off, the tub will quit filling up and, in fact, will drain back down to a stable volume of 260 and 280 cubic meters.

Question: Why was the volume of water in the tub going up by 5 cubic meters per year?

Answer: Because humans opened up a faucet that poured 10 cubic meters of water into the tub each year, and half of it escaped through the holes. (Note: A lot of the CO2 that humans are putting into the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans. Carbon dioxide in water creates carbonic acid - which is what you get in carbonated soft drinks. The acidity of the ocean in some regions is reaching levels where it literally will dissolve the shells and structures of the creatures that currently live there.)

Question: So how come you don't hear about that?

Answer: It is not "Because, you can't say that man is destroying the planet, once you realize man's impact is nil." It is because decent human beings do not clutter up discussions relevant to the potential destruction of whole persons and the suffering of whole populations with that kind of garbage.

It requires a person who is substantially indifferent to the destruction of whole cities and suffering of whole populations to put that type of claim into his writings.

At best, Gutfeld is reckless. He may not be trying to destroy whole cities and cause the suffering of whole populations. However, he is showing indifference to the destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations.

He is doing this in the same way a drunk driver is not trying to kill a family of four on the road as he drives home. However, he is showing callous indifference to the fact that this may very well bring about their deaths.

One response to this that I am likely to see is, "We are all trying to make the world a better place, and we simply disagree on how that is done."

That thesis does not fit the facts. A person "trying to make the world a better place" does not clutter the public debate on global warming with this type of garbage. A morally responsible person looks for the garbage and tries to remove it, not only from his own writings, but the writings of others.

At best Gutfeld failed to look for garbage in his own arguments. At worst, he knew that the arguments were garbage and he used them anyway.

Another important point to this argument that Greg Gutfeld has shown callous indifference to the potential destruction of whole cities and suffering of whole populations is the fact that one does not need to be an expert in global warming science to see this point.

The evidence is found in the simple fact that Gutfeld used a garbage argument in a discussion on a potential risk to cities and populations. Decent people do not use garbage arguments in debates on the potential risks to cities and populations. Gutfeld uses garbage arguments. Gutfeld is not a decent person.

Far from it, in fact, as proved by his own actions.

The same is true of anybody who uses the three-percent argument.

As soon as you see somebody discover a gun on the ground, pick it up, point it at somebody, and pull the trigger, you know you are dealing with somebody who is callously indifferent to the fate of the person he might shoot. You do not have to wait to discover whether the gun was loaded. You already have all the proof you need that the potential shooter does not care.

As soon as you see somebody throwing the three-percent argument into a debate on global warming, you know you are dealing with somebody who is callously indifferent to the destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations. You do not have to wait to discover whether global warming will actually have these effects. You already have all the proof you need that the person using the gun does not care.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

lol this post has fail written all over it

Anonymous said...

also looks like the author ignores the news ><

Anonymous said...

having "atheist" in the blog title is about as self righteous as having "christian" in the blog title. as is being such makes your opinion so much more valid

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

having "atheist" in the blog title is about as self righteous as having "christian" in the blog title. as is being such makes your opinion so much more valid

Actually, I have stated several times in this blog that being an atheist has nothing to do with one's ability to engage in moral reasoning. Being an 'atheist' ethicist is as relevant as being a 'black' president or a 'female' judge. It does not have any relevance at all.

However, even though being black has nothing to do with being president, having a black president is an important part of combatting the bigotry of those who hold that blacks are too inferior to whites to be president.

And having an atheist ethicist is an important part of combatting the bigotry of those who hold that atheism is incompatible with morality - that morality requires religion.

That is why I have the term 'atheist' in the title.

Matt S said...

It seems like "anonymous" has had a lot to say in the past week or so.
Flame and run. Now move along little anon, /b/ is calling you for dinner.

anton said...

It will be the sorrowful task left up to my descendants to inform the naysayers descendants why there is only so much tillable land left on our earth and they are not welcome on the high grounds.

Alonzo, glad you used your "bucket" example. If the naysayers won't understand it they are just plain stupid and ignorant!

Jim Lippard said...

Typo in your post: "The relevant question to answer is the human concentration to the change in overall greenhouse gas emissions." I think you meant "contribution" instead of "concentration."

Bill said...

Hey Anton, great blog. With respect I have to disagree with your line of argument, though. Not all people who disbelieve in AGW are reckless maniacs, or who are too indifferent to care what happens to the future of the planet. This line of thought - 'We should put all our money & scientific resources into combating AGW because if we're wrong it will be catastrophic!' is just a version of Pascal's wager (as any atheist should realise). Unless the science is settled and indisputable (which it clearly isn't), there are big risks with this approach. I worry that too much money, intellectual and political resources are being spent on combatting AGW at the expense of other, more pressing issues - AIDS, overpopulation, nuclear proliferation, water security, etc. Believe me, it's not because I don't care about the Earth that I am an AGW skeptic (NOT 'denier' - a dangerously loaded term!)

Bill said...

Oops, I meant 'if we're right it will be catastrophic not to act, and if we're wrong, no harm done'

anton said...

Bill,
Personally, I don't think that "maniacs" describes the bunch who would argue that global warming is not imminent. I have been a provocateur for most of my life and want both sides of the argument to get together and work out a plan for the situation if they are wrong

I believe there is room and time for this but everybody appears to be so "hell bent" to argue the point that no one is prepared to deal with what happens if they are wrong!.

If those who fear Global Warming while successfully "buying the insurance policy" owe us a workable solution for the "economic fallout" from their plan.

If those who say there is nothing to fear, I would like to see there plan of action if they are wrong.

Like, "What now, folks? I want to get an idea of what happens 50 years later and "nobody is talking". I submit that they aren't thinking either . . . just enjoying the "dust up"!

And, finally, thanks for visiting my blog and thank you for your comment.
.

Anonymous said...

My game plan for what to do if we take action on climate change and then found that we were mistaken would be to keep all the wind and solar power generated electrical capacity, all the nuclear power, all the substantial increses in efficiency, the massive decrease in polution, the polital freedom that follows from not paying billions of dollars for foreign oil, the freedom of not being forced to go to war in the mideast to maintain the flow of oil, and security of power that is not generated from a finite fossil fuel which must ultimately be exhausted.

And I would cry big salty tears because I was marginally less wealthy than I would have been otherwise. Additionally I would be terribly upset that, because of the phase out of coal, I did not have quite as much mercury in my body.

Pat