There is a group of global warming that I would classify as the most morally despicable people on the planet.
Apparently they are able to look upon the potential destruction of whole cities and nations without a twinge of conscience. Somebody with a twinge of conscience would see a responsibility to understand the issue before they say anything - and not try to avoid trying to convince people to adopt a beliefs that would lead to destruction of such magnitude.
Specifically, I am referring to people who write and speak on the issue of global warming but who lack an understanding of even the most basic science involved in this issue.
I am not using this term to refer to everybody who denies global warming. Many of them do not know any better. Of those, many are simply too stupid to be held morally culpable for their errors. Others have an opinion but, recognizing that their opinion is ill-founded, they are not out there trying to convince others that their opinion is correct. This behavior is also morally culpable - but not as culpable as that of the people I am writing about today.
I am also not writing about those people who have an intelligence slightly above that of parrots. They have the ability to recognize the difference between global warming claims and anti-global-warming claims. Of these, they have the capacity to parrot the claims of the latter. But, like a parrot, they do not understand what they say. They are merely repeating what they hear.
The people I am speaking of are people who have a wide audience, who have decided to put pen to paper keyboard to electric circuit) and try to persuade people that global warming is not really happening. Once a person with an audience decides that he is going to try to persuade others of a particular fact, he takes on the obligation of making sure that this is a fact. A person with good desires would be strongly averse to giving others advice that others might follow to their doom. If he perceives a risk as a result of his lack of understanding, he would warn his audience that his claims are not to be taken seriously.
If you know somebody who is a global warming denialist, then ask them this question.
"According to this theory that you say is wrong, how is it that CO2 or some other greenhouse gas is supposed to result in higher temperatures? How do greenhouse gasses work to trap in heat?"
In asking this question, do not accept some parroted cliché about how greenhouse gasses act as a blanket letting sunlight in and trapping it here. If this is the answer you get, then ask, "But how does it do this? What are the mechanisms in play that allow sunlight in and traps it here?"
If they cannot answer this question, yet they are involved in convincing others that global warming is a hoax, then they are guilty of the charge that I have leveled above. The magnitude of their moral culpability is directly proportional to the size of the audience they are speaking to.
Here's the basic story - made simple and easy to understand.
Greenhouse gas molecules have a lot of relationships between the various parts of the molecule. Each relationship is associated with a specific energy level. When a photon strikes this molecule, and its energy level is close to the energy levels of one of these relationships, that energy gets absorbed by the molecule.
We see this by shining a light through a glass box that is filled with one of these gasses. We take the light that comes out the other side and split it up to form a spectrum. That spectrum has a number of black lines in it. These are called absorption lines. These are the energy levels that the gas in the box absorbs and did not make it through the box.
The more gas we put in the box, the more energy it absorbs.
A greenhouse gas is a special type of gas that lets visible light - the type of energy we get from the sun - pass through it. It has few relationships that match the energy levels of photons of visible light.
However, they have many relationships that match the energy levels of infrared light - the type of light that the earth emits into space.
This is how it happens that a greenhouse gas lets light from the sun into the atmosphere, but prevents the heat of the earth from escaping into space. As we increase the amount of this gas in the atmosphere, we do not reduce the amount of light coming in, but we reduce the amount of heat getting out.
Trapping more and more energy in the atmosphere, things get warmer.
The morally responsible denier will know this, and he will be able to give a coherent story as to where the problem is in this basic account. He will fail, because this is basic science, easily demonstrated in any laboratory that has the proper equipment, and that nobody who works in physics or chemistry would deny. The only way to increase the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere without a corresponding increase in the amount of energy absorbed is through the use of magic or divine intervention.
Ultimately, this moral argument does not require that the scientists are right in making these claims. The denialist is already morally culpable simply by putting whole cities, nations, and popoulations at risk.
It does not matter whether the drunk driver actually does get home without killing anybody. He has already proved himself morally culpable by making the attempt. The attempt to get home alone shows his callous disregard for the lives and well-being of others.
It does not matter whether the person who finds a gun on the ground, aims it at somebody else, and pulls the trigger, discovers that the gun is not loaded. He has already proved himself morally culpable by aiming the gun and pulling the trigger. That act shows his callous disregard for the lives and well-being of others.
It does not matter whether the global warming denier is right about whether global warming is a problem. If he cannot answer these basic questions about the science of global warming, he cannot claim to know that there is nothing to worry about. That act itself shows his callous disregard for the lives and well-being of others.
Unlike the drunk driver or the potential shootist in the first two examples, the global warming denier has callous disregard for the potential destruction of whole cities and countries and whole populations of people. The drunk driver and potential shootist still has the opportunity to argue that they would not put whole populations at risk. The global warming denier who does not understand the basic science of global warming cannot offer us that assurance. He has already proved that he is willing to put whole populations at risk.
Whatever level of condemnation we would give to the drunk driver or careless shooter - whatever we would think of that person - the global warming denier who does not understand the physics of greenhouse gasses is orders of magnitude worse - a villain to rival the worst that Hollywood script writers have ever imagined to date.