Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010: A Campaign Against Garbage Arguments

One of the most valuable projects I think one can take up in 2010 is to battle against the prevalence and acceptance of garbage arguments. These are arguments on issues relevant to the life, health, and well-being of people that carry some blatant flaw - a flaw that any reasonable and responsible person could see and would avoid.

Some of my recent series postings contain examples of these garbage arguments.

One example is the claim that since humans are responsible for only a small percentage of CO2 emissions in a given year, that humans are not responsible for the change in atmospheric concentration of CO2.

Whatever these other sources of emissions are, the system has been in equilibrium for over 10,000 years. The amount of CO2 released in a year has equaled the amount absorbed. None of these emission sources of have changed. The only new emission source in the last century that is available to account for the new increase in atmospheric CO2 comes from human emissions. Furthermore, the amount of new CO2 in the atmosphere is less than the amount that humans release (the rest being absorbed mostly by the oceans).

A responsible person can make this mistake once, or until somebody actually shows her the error. From that point on, it becomes a 'garbage argument'.

The most important point here is that it should become a matter of social convention to identify this as a garbage argument and to condemn those who use it.

It is tradition, in these cases, to correct people who make these types of mistakes. "Your argument is flawed. All of those other emissions have been in equilibrium with absorptions over the last 10,000 years. We have to look at what has broken 10,000 years of equilibrium. Unless you want to argue that these other sources such as the oceans came into existence in the last 100 years, and that they release more CO2 than they absorb, you have to concede that these emissions are not relevant."

Yet, there are people who keep using this argument, ignoring its obvious flaw.

When this happens, the response needs to change from politely correcting the individual to morally condemning him.

"Obviously, you do not care that whole cities may be destroyed and whole populations may be made to suffer. A person who cares about such things will not continue to use garbage arguments once they are shown to be garbage arguments. You're like the drunk driver, carelessly and irresponsibly making claims that have the potential to get people killed without any regard for the harms that you might do. You are a threat to human well-being and even to human life."

The attack on garbage arguments does not depend on whether one's position on any issue in which the garbage argument might be used.

One garbage argument that I have attacked in the past year is the argument that, "These religions promote acts that are worthy of condemnation; therefore, all religion must be condemned."

I have called this The Bigot's Fallacy. The person who uses this argument seeks to promote hatred towards a whole group of people by making an invalid inference from the actions of a subset of the group he loves to hate - and wants others to hate.

"Religion" is simply the belief that one or more gods probably or certainly exist. This proposition does not imply anything about how one ought or ought not to behave. It does not imply the evil actions that some religious people commit. The evil that some religious people do comes from the other beliefs that they attach to the belief that at least one God probably or certainly exists. It is those beliefs that are responsible for this evil, and those beliefs that are worthy of condemnation. Yet, not all religious people share those beliefs. The leap from this or that specific evil to a general message of hate represents a garbage argument of the type I am concerned with here.

One of those garbage arguments appeared on an atheist sign put up this year. The Freedom From Religion Foundation put up a holiday sign that said:

At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Yes, that sign qualifies as hate speech.

The proposition, "At least one God probably exists" can be, and often is, simply a mistaken belief. We all have mistaken beliefs. None of us has the ability to hold every one of our beliefs up to the light of reason, so we use reliable but fallible shortcuts in adopting beliefs. "That which is widely accepted in the society in which I grew up" is one of those shortcuts.

None of us have beliefs that are 100% certified true according to the principles of perfect reason.

Consistent with that, some people seriously believe that there is sufficient evidence for the existence of a God. The design argument and argument is fine-tuned to support life are persuasive. They are flawed arguments, but not the obviously flawed arguments that any responsible person giving the subject an ounce of thought can see through. Most importantly, they merely support the conclusion that a God probably exists and created the universe. It does not support any type of hardening of hearts and enslaving of minds.

You simply cannot get to the proposition, "At least one God probably exists" to the hardening of hearts and enslaving of minds without adding a bunch of additional premises. No matter what additional premises you add, there is no reason to believe that they are necessarily shared by all people who hold, "At least one God exists."

What causes people to embrace garbage arguments such as this and post them in government buildings during the holiday season? It is nothing less than tribal hatred stampeding over reason – a moral fault against which atheism provides no immunity.

An atheist culture that is truly devoted to reason is going to shun garbage arguments. Even when a garbage argument supports a conclusion that they want to convince others is true, their hatred of garbage arguments is going to outweigh their desire to convince others that a particular conclusion is true.

She will adopt a prescription such as, "I will try to convince people of X but I will not stoop to doing so with the use of garbage arguments - and, in particular, stoop to doing so by embracing and propagating The Bigot's Fallacy."

This is no more different than saying, "I will try to make that trip to Greece this year but I will not stoop to do so by using theft and fraud to pay for the trip."

The inference, "religion -> evil" is simply invalid. It's garbage. There is no way to make the deductive leap from "At least one god probably or certainly exists" to "it is permissible to perform these acts that are, in fact, evil," without a set of additional premises - and those additional premises are not premises that all religious people must necessarily share.

This would not be a campaign that aims to promote acceptance of any particular conclusions. It is a campaign that looks at the way people reach those conclusions. It argues that certain forms of argument are not only mistaken (and may be corrected), but indicate a moral flaw in the character of those who use them - making them worthy of condemnation.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010: Atheists in Public Office

In 2010, we will see that no substantive progress has been made in cracking the wall that keeps atheists out of public office.

This is because no substantive work is being done towards that end, and is foolish to expect that it will happen by magic or as a gift from some supernatural entity looking down and bestowing blessings on the atheist community. It is an end that will only come from hard work. However, no work is being done towards that end.

Just to be clear, I do not think that anybody should be elected to public office because he is an atheist. Some people who call themselves atheists are . . . well . . . rather frightening.

However, am I really supposed to believe that, in this country, there is only one atheist qualified to hold public office at the national level, and none qualified to sit in a state legislature or as governor of any state?

The campaign to change the way that people think about atheists would not be a campaign to get people elected to public office because they are atheists. It would be a campaign to remove the barriers that keep people out of office because they are atheists.

Such a campaign would have to include substantive protests against the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Motto. Those protests need a new focus.

If the focus continues to be on the separation of church and state, then we can expect the effect of the next 40 years to be substantively the same as the effect of the last 40 years. It's a losing battle. This tactic has been turned into a rallying cry against the Constitution and the idea of separation of church and state that poses a real threat of tearing down that wall.

Support for the separation of church and state is weakening, and anything that is built on that foundation is likely to collapse with it.

The tactic should shift to focus on discrimination itself. "How dare you begin any civic ceremony with a statement that equates a lack of support for a nation under God with succession, tyranny, and injustice?

It is not enough to refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. This act merely brands the person who performs it as anti-American and worthy of contempt. Remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance, and you are unfit to hold public office. The message is simple. Its effect is discriminatory.

It actually reinforces the message that the Pledge, with the words 'under God' is designed to deliver - the message that only those who believe in God are to be counted as true and loyal Americans.

It is necessary to actively protest the Pledge of Allegiance as discriminatory.

The Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office. Yet, the Pledge of Allegiance itself – the willingness to support a nation under God – is a de facto religious test for public office in almost all parts of the country.

It is necessary to actively protest the Pledge of Allegiance as hate-speech as written, because that is precisely what it is. It equates a lack of support for a nation under God with succession, tyranny, and injustice. We are supposed to hate succession, tyranny, and injustice. Therefore, the lesson that we are to draw from the Pledge of Allegiance is that we are also supposed to hate those who do not support a nation under God.

It is also necessary to protect the national motto, 'In God We Trust' as hate speech. For all practical purposes, what it says is that, "If you do not trust in God, you are not one of us." It is an instruction, direct from the U.S. government to all of its citizens, to consider anybody who does not trust in God as an outsider.

"If you trust in God, you are one of us. If you do not trust in God, you are one of them."

There is an unfortunate tendency for people to abuse the concept of hate speech. To some theists, the phrase, "I am an atheist" spoken within earshot of others counts as hate speech. The very fact that somebody actually states, "I do not think your God exists" is considered an attack on their religion - an attack that they seek to condemn and to silence by calling it hate speech.

However, the fact that this term is so widely abused does not imply that NOTHING legitimately counts as hate-speech.

I define hate-speech as any speech that blatantly and unjustly labels a particular group of people as worthy of hate. "I do not think your God exists" is not hate speech. If it were, than any statement of disagreement - any time a person says, "No, I think you are mistaken" - would have to be condemned as hate speech.

However, equating a lack of support for a nation under God with succession, tyranny, and injustice qualifies as hate speech.

Telling the people of the United States that a person has to trust in God to count as one of us, and a person who does not trust in God is to be thought of as one of them qualifies as hate speech.

As long as hate is our national motto, and children are encouraged to promise (pledge) to practice hate in our schools, and as long as civic ceremonies begin with a message of hate, the barrier between atheists and public office will remain substantially intact.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010: Getting Off This Rock

One of the most important projects for the long-range survival of the human race (and its descendants) involves creating a viable civilization that could survive the destruction of the whole Earth.

That is to say, we need to get off this rock.

I envision a day when humans are collecting energy from the sun in space using space-based solar power stations, mining asteroids for their raw materials, smelting those materials in space, then shipping that material to earth.

I compare the harvesting of materials in the dead wasteland of space - where the only life that exists is the life we bring with us - to cutting deeper and deeper scars into the living earth where we are already having significant and detrimental effects on the whole planet.

That future is a long ways off. For the present, the question is whether we are going to make any significant steps towards that future in 2010.

It seems quite clear that President Obama is one who believes that we should be solving all of the problems here on Earth first before we waste money sending people into space. On this model, there would be no manned spaceflight until there is no hunger on earth, every child gets a decent education, every person has easy access to quality medical care, there are no wars and no crime of any kind. Once that has been accomplished, THEN we can look to space exploration.

One could, of course, make the same claim about there being no sitcoms on television, no sporting events, no playing golf or basketball, no computer games, no cuddling in front of the fire with a loved one sipping hot chocolate, no walks on the beach, no working on a jigsaw puzzle. None of these things should exist until all of the problems of Earth have been solved.

Politically, Obama is not able to end the space program. It would require shutting down too many offices and companies and disrupt too many lives - generating too many of the wrong kind of headlines. The politically viable course is to have the smallest manned spaceflight program that is politically viable, and to spend the money elsewhere.

I suggest that this is a mistake for a number reasons. I have already alluded to two of them.

The first is that the day will come when there are no humans living on Earth. When that day arrives, either we will be a space-faring civilization or we will be extinct.

The second is that space represents the solution to some of these problems. In space we have access to huge quantities of energy guaranteed not to run out for the next several billion years, and whole asteroids to mine and to turn into manufactured goods without disturbing a single living thing.

There are other reasons to consider.

Third, there are significant threats to human well-being and even human survival that come from space. These include the potential impact of space rocks to the potential sterilization of the planet form a nearby gamma ray burst. The latter is exemplified by the discovery of a binary system that will destroy itself some day and seems well positioned to send a massive gamma ray burst in the direction of Earth. (See Binary 'deathstar' has Earth in its sights.)

Fourth, the space program continues to draw people into the study of science, math, and engineering, even if they ultimately put their efforts someplace else (such as the study of moral philosophy). Of all of the museums in the Smithsonian, the Air and Space Museum is still the one that gets the most visitors. It would be foolish for those who recognize the value of having a public well versed in science and technology in general to eliminate the biggest attraction that the fields of science and technology has to offer


Yet, President Obama is not going to read this blog and I have no way of altering the course of the U.S. manned space program in the short term. That space program will probably be to do as little as politically possible.

Yet, there are still things to look forward to in 2010.

First, Virgin Galactic has recently shown us SpaceShipTwo - which will take paying passengers to the edge of space. SpaceX will likely launch Falcon 9 which has the ability to take cargo and, later, astronauts into space. Robert Bigalow is still working on his inflatable space modules, and several companies are working on was to get people economically to and from those modules. This is a start of an industry that could take people into space without government participation.

Second, a recent report from a panel charged with investigating manned space flight has identified a new goal for space exploration - a 'flexible plan' that puts the development of space itself above landings on the Moon or on Mars. It proposes projects for long-term spaceflights to asteroids and engage in long-term projects constructing and maintaining facilities such as space telescopes in deep space - outside of low earth orbit.

These two events are at least heading in the right direction.

So, one of the things I look forward to in 2010 is further development in this particular direction. Further development in a non-government space program where private entities take people into space and begin the work constructing the infrastructure that will harvest space resources, while NASA provides the research and technical development that helps this industry to survive.

Monday, December 28, 2009

2010: Finding Earth-Like Planets

According to Alan Boyle, MSNBC, starting in January, scientists who have been studying the data collected by the Kepler Observatory will begin to report on what rumor suggests will be the first dozen of what will be potentially thousands of extrasolar planets revealed over the next three years.

Scientists are on their way to discovering thousands of new planets, potentially including hundreds of worlds the size of Earth, in Earth-like orbits around sunlike stars. They expect to achieve that goal within three years or so. But they'll start with the weirdest worlds.

(See: MSNBC: Looking for Alien Earths? Here They Come.)

So far, over 400 planets have been discovered orbiting other stars. However, our detection methods have favored larger planets and those that are closest to their parent stars. This means that we have mostly discovered 'hot Jupiters' - planets the size of Jupiter and larger - much larger - orbiting close in to the star.

The Kepler Observatory also favors finding planets close in to their parent star. However, it is capable of discovering planets the size of earth. So, this first batch of planets to be reported will likely include a number of hot Jupiters. However, it will also include some super-hot Venus-like planets.

They will still be too hot to expect to hold any life. However, those planets will come. Each time another set of data is downloaded from the Kepler Observatory, scientists have the opportunity to confirm planets that are further and further away from the parent star.

The Kepler Observatory finds a planet by measuring the change in brightness as the planet orbits the parent star. As the planet passes in front of the star, the star gets a little bit dimmer. Kepler records these dips in brightness. Three dips in brightness over a regular period tells scientists that the dips were caused by a planet that had passed on front of the star three times.

Scientists want to see the brightness dip three times before they will suggest that a planet is responsible. This means, with 45 days' worth of data, scientists can discover planets that orbit their parent star in 15 days or less (hot Jupiters and hot Venuses).

With 1100 days worth of data, scientists can discover planets that take a whole year to orbit their parent stars - planets very much like Earth.

However, we do need to add the fact that our sun is a particularly large star. The vast majority of stars are smaller and cooler. As such, any wet planets or wet moons orbiting those stars will have smaller, tighter orbits. The discovery of those planets will take less than three years.

One more interesting fact to consider. A planet has to be in an orbit that lines up with the Earth for Kepler Observatory to detect them. That will be rare. For every earth-like planet that Kepler can discover, there can be hundreds that do not line up correctly.

Not only is Kepler able to discover planets orbiting other stars, it can discover moons orbiting those planets, if the moons are large enough. It may well be that, where life is possible in another solar system, it will be on a large wet moon orbiting a Jupiter-like planet, rather than on a planet like Earth.

All of this holds out the hope that the year 2010 will see some very interesting discoveries - with the discoveries getting more and moe interesting every year thereafter - culminating in the potential discvery 3 to 5 years from now of an Earth-size planet (or a wet moon) orbiting a parent star at just the right distance for liquid water, potentially with signs that its atmosphere contains heavy concentrations of nitrogen and oxygen,

That will be a very interesting day indeed.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Holiday Message

I am not much into holidays.

Whatever joy and happiness is to be found in the holiday season I wish for people to have all year round. There is no reason why some random day out of the year . . .May 22nd, perhaps . . . should not be as good as December 25th.

So, I wish for you, my readers, a merry Everyday and a happy new tomorrow.

It has been my hope, through this blog, to give people better everydays than they would have otherwise had. With a commitment to try to be better people ourselves, and to promote the better nature of others while discouraging that coarser nature that tends to thwart the desires of others, we can all realize more of that which has value than we would have otherwise had.

One of the implications of desire utilitarianism (a.k.a., desirism) is that virtue does not require any sacrifice. The good person gets to do exactly what he wants to do while. This is because what the good person wants to do is that which will tend to fulfill the desires of others.

It is one thing to sacrifice and give one's money to charity to feed the poor to provide medical care to the sick. It is quite another to look at all of the things that one wants to do with the money, and finding more value in using it to feed the poor and provide medical care to the sick instead.

It is one thing to show up to do charity work out of a sense of duty while suppressing the desire to do other things. It is quite another to be there, helping other people, and knowing that you are where you want to be and you are doing what you want to do.

It is sometimes said that virtue is its own reward. In desire utilitarianism, this is true. A virtuous person does not lie (except to the proverbial NAZI coming door to door in search of the proverbial Jew in the attic). At the same time, he enjoys honesty. Deceit is a form of suffering. Being forced to lie is, to her, like being forced to eat that food which one most hates to eat. It is an unpleasant experience that one will avoid if at all person. A virtuous person is honest in part because he simply cherishes honesty.

A morally virtuous person is intellectually responsible in part because he has a desire to be intellectually responsible and an aversion to intellectual irresponsibility. Caught making a garbage argument on an issue like global climate change, the virtuous person is embarrassed and ashamed. He has slipped, and found himself in a situation that he hates and will struggle to avoid in the future. Having been caught delivering a garbage argument or making a clearly false assumption (as I did a few posts ago), he curses himself and resolves to redouble his efforts to make sure that something like that never does again.

Intellectual responsibility, to such a person, is not a burden, it is a pleasure. Going to the effort to double-check one's facts and to review one's arguments for soundness is not a burden that requires giving up other things that one enjoys. It is one of the things the agent treasures and, thus, one of the things he would hate to be forced to give up.

We are human and none of us is without fault. I can look at myself and list desires that are not those that a person with good desires would not have, and know that I lack certain concerns that a person with good desires would have. Each of us can do the same thing.

Yet, we can recognize them as flaws because we can recognize them as traits that people in general have little or no reason to encourage; or that they are the absence of traits that people generally have many and strong reason to promote in others. In fact, the agent himself can tell himself,

Sometimes, we can say of ourselves, This trait that I have is one that I have reason to condemn in others because of the desire-thwarting it tends to bring about. They have reason to condemn this quality in me. That is what defines it as a bad trait. That is what identifies it as a trait that I should, in a moral sense, try to exchange for one that people generally have reason to promote in others, and that I have reason to promote in them.

We have the power to make the world a better place than it would have otherwise been by putting these social tools to work. We can do so by condemning those attitudes people generally have reason to condemn when we find them in others - and when we find them in ourselves. And we can do so by praising those attitudes people generally have reason to praise when we find them in others - and when we find them in ourselves.

To the degree that we are successful at promoting virtue (the desire to do that which tends to fulfill the desires of others), and inhibit the vices (the desire to do that which tends to thwart the desires of others), we generally get to find more value in the one short and finite life we all have to live.

So, I wish to take this holiday season to try to encourage you, as I will encourage myself, to make the world a better place by promoting - in self and others - those desires that tend to fulfill other desires and in inhibiting - in self and others - those desires that tend to thwart other desires.

And to make an honest effort to learn which is which.

Together, next year, we can make the world a better place than it would have otherwise been if we had not gone through the effort, or if we had not existed so as to be able to put in the effort.

Have a merry Christmas, and make it a better 2010 than it would have otherwise been, for yourself, and for others.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Climate Change: Summary Position Part II

I spent two weeks arguing that those who use particular arguments in the climate change debate are at best deserving of the same type of condemnation as we would give the drunk driver or the school bus driver who decides to race across a train crossing to beat an oncoming train.

Then I started to give my own position on the climate change debate.

Yesterday, I argued that - unless you are going to put in enough work to qualify for a PhD in climate science - that the scientific consensus represents the best information on the subject. You cannot point to any group or institution and say honestly that it does a better job of explaining and, more importantly, predicting what is going to happen than the scientific consensus. Scientists are human, and some will lie and commit fraud and be blinded by their biases. Yet, in spite of these flaws. the scientific consensus is still the best source of information.

This identifies one of the strongest points of moral condemnation that I have been arguing for - arrogant people willing to bet human lives that, by watching Fox News and surfing the internet for a few hours, they can be so certain that the scientific consensus is wrong that they will bet the fate of whole cities on the outcome. It is hard even to fathom the arrogance of such a person.

However, even though the scientific consensus is the best source of information on what will happen, it does not tell us what should happen. I hasten to add that, as a moral realist, I hold that science could find and report moral facts, so far it has avoided a rigorous study of that discipline. Consequently, even scientists can give us no better than crude, rudimentary moral intuitions - many, like our scientific intuitions, are greatly flawed.

The dominant political consensus on what should happen is that the nations of the world should get together and work together to prevent global temperatures from rising 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. This means mandatory caps and then cuts on greenhouse gas emissions.

I hold that caps and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions represents an extremely costly, foolish, and ultimately immoral approach to the problem that is ultimately doomed to fail. It will fail because it establishes a system where people are given a liberty to do great amounts of harm without being held responsible for the consequences. Not only are they given this liberty, but those who do harm are actually rewarded with a higher quality of life than those avoid doing harm.

The whole issue of climate change is that greenhouse gas emissions create costs. Those costs are potentially as high as the destruction of whole cities and of whole populations. This, in itself, is a moral issue. As such, it is a legitimate object of concern in this blog.

Behavior that does a great amount of harm to others is to be morally condemned.

When it comes to the harms caused by climate change, there are three basic policies on the table that tell who will pay for those harms.

Policy 1: The victims themselves pay for the harms caused by global warming. The bill gets sent to the people who lose their homes and property to sea-level rise, die from heat stress, and have their communities wiped out by drought. If we were talking about a moral crime such as theft or rape, this method says that the costs of theft and rape are to be borne by the victim, and that those who do the harm shall be left free to do as they please.

Policy 2: The taxpayer gets the bill for all the harm done. On this model, we are going to institute expensive government programs to deal with global warming and spend trillions of government dollars mitigating the effects.

Policy 3: Let those who do the harm pay the costs. The costs of dealing with climate change is taken out of the accounts of those who contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The more one contributes, the more one pays. If a person does not wish to pay these costs, then they will take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. If they are willing to pay these costs, then at least they are not making others worse off by their actions. They are being required to pay enough money to compensate their victims for harms done.

Of the three, Policy 3 is the only option that makes any moral sense.

However, Policy 3 does not require caps or mandatory reductions. It does not bilking the common wage earner to pay for huge government programs to subsidize alternative energy production, carbon sinks, and engineering projects to deal with the effects of climate change. It requires collecting money from those who cause climate change - the greenhouse gas emitters - and using that money, not general taxpayer money, to pay for all of these projects.

It is simply an application of the policy that individuals will be held morally responsible for the consequences of their actions. If you are at fault for running a red light and smashing into another car, you compensate your victim for the harms done (or have your insurance company do it).

A lot of people do not like to be held morally responsible for the harms they do to others. They like to escape responsibility - to do harm to others and then run away from the consequences. However, this is not what a good person would do. This is not the type of behavior we have any reason to praise. It is quite the opposite - a type of behavior that we have a great deal of reason to condemn and to condemn harshly.

The political solution that best matches this moral requirement is one that requires that greenhouse gas emitters make a payment proportional to their contribution to the buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The solution will then use that money specifically to cover the costs associated with global warming (if any). Anybody who does not want to pay for the harms they cause to others is free to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and thus reduce the amount of harm they have to pay for.

On this method, if a person decides to do less harm, they get a direct benefit in the form of reducing the payments they make into the pool that compensates people for those harms. And the people who decide to continue to do harm makes payments that at least leaves others no worse off than they would have otherwise been.

There is no cap in that people are allowed to emit whatever greenhouse gasses they are willing to pay for. There are no mandatory reductions - just the voluntary reductions of those who decide, "I can't afford to buy insurance against the possibility of moving whole cities to higher ground, so I'm not going to do the things that may have these kinds of consequences."

As fossil fuel emitters are forced to pay for the full costs and consequences of their action, we should see sizable private free-market investment (without taxpayer subsidies) in alternative energy. The demand will come from those who do not wish to pay the costs of emitting greenhouse gasses.

One of the most morally outrageous arguments that we see in the climate change debate - and one that we hear a lot from the vocal leaders of the Republican Party, is that this tactic of forcing people to pay for the harms they cause to others is "bad for the economy". If greenhouse gas emitters are required to cover the costs of their actions, the story goes, this will mean the loss of jobs and economic collapse.

These are scare tactics used . . . effectively . . . by thieves, vandals, and murderers who wish to continue to rob and kill others and destroy their property without facing the consequences of their action. This argument is like saying, "No, we cannot take steps to cause credit card fraud! Whenever we prevent credit card fraud we damage the economy because of all other money these fraudsters spend, promoting jobs and employment!"

It is an absurd argument. Somebody has to pay these costs. Stopping credit card fraud leaves the money in the pockets of those who earned it so that they can spend it as they please. Holding greenhouse gas emitters morally and economically responsible for the harms they do means that those who would have otherwise been their victims get to keep their property, their health, and their lives, to spend as they choose - or they are provided with compensation as valuable as that which is taken from them.

In economic terms, this means raising the victim to the same point on the indifference curve – where possible.

Somebody will have to pay these costs. Either it is the victims of global warming, the taxpayer (regardless of their degree of responsibility in causing these problems), or the greenhouse gas emitters themselves.

Morality suggests that it be the latter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Climate Change: Summary Position Part I

I have been spending the last couple of weeks criticizing arguments found in the climate change debate. I would like to spend a couple of days explaining my own position on this subject.

First: You and I do not have time to become "fully informed" on climate change.

We do not have time to read the International Panel on Climate Change Reports and to read all of the works cited in that report and see if the report accurately reflects those articles, and to read all of the criticism of the report, and to read the responses to the criticism.

And neither do you.

Even if you are a climate scientist, you do not have time to do all of this. The climate can read that section of the material that is relevant to her field of study, but this will still necessarily leave whole fields of study that she does not have time to study in detail.

Thus, we are going to have to make our decisions in the face of substantial ignorance.

One group of people that I condemn wholeheartedly are those who get their climate science from reading a half-dozen news articles a year, many of them engineered by the PR firms of companies that produce or consume fossil fuels, and think they know what what the Earth's climate will be like 50 years from now. Their arrogance is orders of magnitude worse than that of the drunk driver who insists that he can make it home without killing anybody.

Second: The best information on what is going to happen is in the scientific consensus.

The people whose opinion about what burning fossile fuels (and deforestation, and the construction of cement) will do to the future of the climate is to be found in the scientific consensus.

This is not to say that the scientific consensus is correct or that it should not be questioned. In fact, one of the reasons to trust the scientific consensus is that it is produced by an institution that very much respects the possibility of error and the value of challenging current ideas against new evidence. There is no science scripture that says, "You must believe this and those who do not are to be sentenced to death as heretics." Science is filled with examples of people challenging received opinion and, eventually, winning.

Still, science is done by scientists, and scientists are human beings. In any community of, say, 20,000 human beings you are going to have some who are paradigms of virtue and some who lack virtue. You will find people engaged in politics and fraud, corrupted by their own biases, acting on petty grievances against one another and seeking to do favors for their friends.

Science, as an institution, does not deny the fallibility of scientists. In fact, the institution of science is built on the fact that scientists cannot always be trusted and safeguards must be put in place to lessen the harm done by human failings.

With all of its flaws, there is still no better source of information than the scientific consensus. Worst of all, again, are those people who claim that they can visit a half-dozen web pages on the internet and call themselves an expert capable of second-guessing a community of tens of thousands of researchers who have spent their lives studying the relevant subject matters.

Third: The scientific consensus concerns what will happen under different scenarios - not what should be done about it.

In order to become an expert of what should be done about climate change, it is not enough to be an expert on climate change. One also needs to become an expert on all of the different issues that one could tackle with the same resources. To do anything to address the issue of climate change means taking resources away from the fight to reduce the harms done by malaria and AIDS, for example. This requires not only knowing the science of climate change, but the engineering of different mitigtion strategies, and a comparable level of knowledge of all of the other issues competing for the same resources to tackle their problems.

No mortal has those abilities, and anybody who claims to have the answer and who claims certainty that their answer is correct is claiming god-like powers of intelligence of wisdom (and of moral virtue in deciding which options to pursue).

Fourth: Even in the face of these facts we can know that some arguments are flawed, and that no morally responsible person would use them.

To say that these arguments are flawed is not to say that we know what the right answer is. It is to say that no decent and responsible person would clutter our attempt to get to the right answer with this garbage. People who use these arguments show gross indifference to the welfare of whole cities and whole populations. Not since the days of Hitler have we seen such massive disregard to the potential for mass destruction than we find on the part of whole segments of the population as we are currently seeing among those who use these flawed arguments.

You do not need to know and understand the whole of the climate change debate to know that the Three Percent Argument (humans are responsible for only three percent of the greenhouse gas emissions) is entirely irrelevant to the debate. We are talking about changes in greenhouse gas concentrations over the past few decades. To look for a cause of a change in concentrations we must look for a change in emissions. The most significant change in emissions over the past 50 years as been human emissions. Furthermore, the change in CO2 concentrations is more than fully accounted for by the change in human CO2 emissions. We have no gap that requires looking for a second (natural) source.

Regardless of what the final answer to the global warming issues are, this argument is flawed and remains flawed. So do the other arguments that I discussed. They are now and always will be arguments that a responsible person would not use.

If I were to say that no morally responsible person will drive while drunk, it would be absurd to interpret my comments as being against driving - that no person should drive anywhere at any time. I am obviously stating that, while driving is (or can be) morally permissible, the morally permissible forms of driving do not include driving while drunk.

Similarly, it is absolute rubbish to claim that it is morally irresponsible to use one of these garbage arguments to support a conclusion on climate change, it is absurd to interpret this to mean that one cannot support that conclusion responsibly. In fact, this gross misinterpretation of my argument is, itself, a morally irresponsible fallacy.

Above, I described my position on climate change to be substantially one of ignorance - and I do not have the time to change that situation. I do argue for trusting the scientific consensus - but not for worshipping it. It is not a prohibition on questioning the scientific consensus. However, it is a prohibition on those who question it to refrain from garbage arguments - arguments that are already known to be flawed and that no responsible person would use.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Climate Change: No Matter the Cost

If something is not done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then there is a high probability of catastrophic climate change – such as sea-level rise that has the potential to destroy whole cities and cause the suffering of whole populations. In fact, we already see the first signs of this global disruption. So, we must do something now, no matter the cost!


Costs always matter.

Costs represent lost opportunity. However much time, energy, and resources we spend on this issue, that is time, energy, and resources that is not being spent on some other issue. Time, energy, and resources not being spent on some other issue is human suffering – and even human death – that is not being prevented elsewhere.

How much will it cost to shift from fossil-fuel to non-fossil fuels? It seems to me that it will take quite a bit. We are talking about huge amounts of scientific research, massive engineering work, and construction projects that are just as massive. In addition, in current discussion, I have seen numbers of between $100 billion and $600 billion to be given to poor countries to help them deal with the costs of climate change.

I raise my hand.

"Without denying that climate change imposes a threat, is this the best use for that money? And, if so, what is the evidence for that?"

Polio and small-pox were once world-wide diseases causing huge amounts of human suffering. This is not the case any more. The people who helped to fight these diseases possibly saved more human lives and prevented more human misery than is being put at risk due to climate change. Yet, they did it with a fraction of the cost.

Malaria kills 3 million people each year. In those areas where malaria is common, it has the ability to wreck whole economies, making it virtually impossible for the people there to break out of poverty and create better lives for themselves. How much would it cost to deal effectively with this threat? Perhaps our scientific research, engineering, and construction efforts could do more good there than it can with climate change?

Can we do more good with less money with an anti-malaria campaign, or an anti-AIDS campaign, then we can with an anti-global-warming campaign? Is the effort to deal with the effects of global warming taking attention and resources away from other threats that are far more immediate, and far easier to deal with?

I ask these as questions because I do not know. Yet, I would wager that many who insist that we do something about climate change do not know either. Instead, they are taking a very simplistic approach to the whole issue. Global climate change will produce some very costly effects, so obviously we must spend a great deal of time and money to prevent or mitigate those effects.

This leap is not only invalid, it is socially irresponsible. It involves turning one’s back on those who could be helped – whose lives could be saved – if these resources were devoted to those issues instead.

We can imagine a person – a first-resonder - at the scene of an automobile wreck, who devotes his whole energy to one person’s broken leg, while a family that could have been rescued burns to death while trapped in their car. If such a person were to make this type of mistake, we would accuse him of dereliction of duty, and condemn him for it. This type of person may well be deserving of condemnation. In fact, an investigation may conclude that he deserves a more formal type of condemnation – a reprimand and perhaps the loss of his job – because of his gross failure to do his duty.

We all have duties to others to help make sure that our resources are devoted to doing the most good with the least amount of money.

This is not a question of how good the science is. This is a question of how good the economics is. One can read through the International Panel on Climate Change Reports from cover to cover and not find any substantive discussion of how the costs and benefits of dealing with climate change stack up against the costs and benefits of dealing with other issues such as malaria. To do that, you need to subject the scientific results of the IPCC to economic scrutiny, and hold it up side-by-side with reports dealing with other issues.

Which means, one not only needs to become knowledgeable on climate-change issues. One also has to know and understand the situation with respect to all other activities that we could address with those same scientific, engineering, and construction resources.

Climate-change scientists may well be experts on climate change. However, when it comes to these questions, they are almost as much in the dark as the rest of us. What they do know is likely to be biased. They have reason to promote work on climate change rather than malaria or AIDS simply because they are climate-change researchers, and not malaria or AIDS researchers.

This has nothing to do with believing or not believing the climate change research. It has to do with the mistaken belief that all the information one needs is to be found in that research.

For those who insist that huge quantities of resources MUST be spent to deal with this issue, are you sure this is the best possible use for those resources?

I’m not.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Climate Change: The Unreliable Argument

Climate models a re complex and unreliable and are ultimately trying to model a system that is beyond human comprehension. We ought not to trust their results, which means that we should go ahead and proceed with business as usual.

This is another utterly irrational and irresponsible argument that global warming deniers often made.

Hearing or reading this argument in the statements made by a global warming denier is like hearing somebody say, "I do not know if the price is more than or less than $100; therefore, it must be less than $100." Or, "I do not know if John is taller or shorter than Jim so he must be shorter."

The only sane and sensible conclusion to draw from 'I don't know . . . " is "I don't know."

In this case, the foolishness of this reasoning is made morally objectionable by the fact that this careless is being used in discussing an issue where the lives and well-being of others are at stake. It's quite permissible to be this careless in one's thinking when an agent only harms himself or herself as a result. When they are debating policies that affect the lives and well-being of others, they have an obligation to say, "Okay, this is not the time for foolish games. To claim that ignorance of whether A is larger than or smaller than B implies that it is smaller than B is a type of foolishness that we don't need in this discussion."

It's moral irresponsibility is easily captured using the two paradigm examples of irresponsibility that I have been using throughout this series.

(1) The factors determining whether or not a drunk driver will or will not actually make it home from the party are too complex to figure it. It depends on traffic, on the route the driver will take, on facts about the other drivers on the road and a host of variables that we cannot even begin to figure in. Therefore, we should go ahead and let the drunk driver try to make his way home.

(2) We have no way of knowing whether the found gun that the guy has picked up in the park and pointed at the child is loaded or not. We have no way of knowing. Perhaps the gun is loaded, perhaps it is not. In our ignorance, it is perfectly within that agent's right to go ahead and treat the gun as if it is not loaded - to go ahead and aim it at somebody and pull the trigger.

In both of these cases, following The Unreliable Argument would lead to acts of reckless endangerment and, perhaps, negligent homicide.

Imagine logging into your computer and reading a story of a drunk driver who has killed family of four, or a college student who found a gun on the beach, pointed it at some random individual, and pulled the trigger. Hold that thought in your mind for a moment.

Now, imagine to a news commentator on a cable news network say that climate change models are unreliable and, therefore, they ought to be ignored. The drunk driver and the shootists are the paradigms of virtue compared to the commentator who uses The Unreliable Argument in discussing climate change. The drunk driver and the shootist simply does not care about the harm they do to one family or one person. The global warming denier who uses The Unreliable Argument is willing to put whole cities and whole populations at risk.

One of the facts that these irresponsible people fail to consider is that if these climate change models are unreliable, they are as likely to under-estimate the risk as they are to over-estimate the risk.

One of the areas in which these climate change models seem to have gone wrong is in estimating the melting of the polar ice. The ice cap is melting far more quickly than these models predicted. In the case of the melting of land-based ice, this suggests that sea level will rise far more quickly than expected.

In a display of recklessly selective use of data among global warming deniers, there are some who are quick to point out that the average global temperatures over the past 10 years has not risen. "Therefore, the climate models cannot be trusted. Therefore, we are free to continue business as usual." They love to grab onto and broadcast deviations that go in the direction that they like - that suggest less global warming rather than more.

And then, because they really have no interest either in truth or the potential destruction that might result from global warming - they completely ignore any evidence (such as the faster-than-predicted melting of the ice caps) that threaten more and sooner destruction than the models once predicted.

In this case, the argument that, "We don't know whether the climate models are accurate predictors of the rate at which the ice caps will melt; therefore, they will melt more slowly than the models predict" proved to be wrong. Furthermore, it is the type of error that will result in destruction that could have otherwise been prevented if only people had not embraced such a foolish argument.

When you see these types of patterns in somebody's postings or writings, you know that you have encountered somebody who is fixated on defending a conclusion (and is cherry-picking his evidence accordingly) and is indifferent to the potential to destruction. Another type of person - one interested in preventing destruction and, therefore, wants to know the truth of the matter, will not cherry-pick evidence in this way.

Once again, I would like to remind the reader that we are talking about people exhibiting callous indifference to the destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations. Only a horrendously reckless person would allow a drunk person to drive home because he is ignorant as to what the precise results would be - or pick up a gun, aim it, and pull the trigger because he does not know whether or not it is loaded.

He is orders of magnitude more reckless if he peppers his anti-global-warming texts and speeches with the claim that, because climate change models are not perfectly reliable, that it is perfectly legitimate to engage in activities that may end up doing considerably more harm than those models predict.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Climate Change: The One Percent Rule

In my last post I accused global warming deniers of reckless endangerment if they use the argument that we should do nothing until we have "proof" of the harms that are caused by human emissions of greenhouse gasses and our ability to prevent those harms. I compared them to a ship's captain who demands that the ship proceed at full speed unless and until he has absolute proof of an iceberg dead ahead. Even is no iceberg shows up, that captain is guilty of reckless endangerment. If an iceberg does show up, the moral crime of reckless endangerment becomes the moral crime of negligent homicide.

If sea level rise does show up, the moral crime or reckless endangerment assigned to those who use the "Must Have Proof" argument will also (or, actually, has already) turned into the moral crime of negligent homicide.

However, this particular coin has a flip side. On the other side of the debate, some people have started to advocate that the One Percent Doctrine should be applied to climate change.

The One Percent Doctrine says that if a particular threat has a 1% chance of causing significant harm, then we should treat it as if it is certain and act accordingly.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney itterated the One Percent Doctrine with respect to America's war on terror.

If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.

(See: Wikipedia, The One Percent Doctrine.

So, on this doctrine:

If there's a 1% chance that human greenhouse gas emissions will destroy cities and cause whole populations to suffer, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.

However, this is an absolutely absurd and irrational doctrine that will all but guarantee that we do far more harm than we prevent. Those who follow the One Percent Doctrine become a far worse threat than the "harms" they claim to be preventing us from.

Let us assume that we apply the One Percent Doctrine 100 times. In each case, we face a 1% chance of suffering $25 trillion worth of destruction. In each case, we treat the 1% chance of destruction as equal to 100% chance of destruction (as 'certainty'). Now, if we are facing a 100% chance of $25 trillion in destruction, it is rational for us to spend, say, $20 trillion avoiding that destruction. Let us now do that 100 times against each of these threats. We have now spent $2,000 trillion to avoid what would have been on average $25 trillion in losses.

In other words, by following the One Percent Doctrine, we have made things 80 times worse than they would have been if we had done nothing at all. We have, in effect, made ourselves eighty times more dangerous than any of the threats we faced - making ourselves, as I said, our own worse enemy.

The One Percent Doctrine is moral and rational rubbish.

It is just as stupid to treat a 1% chance that something is happening as if it were 100% certain to happen as it is to treat a 99% chance that something is happening as if it were 0% certain. Whereas it is reasonable in the latter case to conclude that the agent is guilty of gross negligence and, where people die as a result, negligent homicide. The same is true in the first case as well. People who follow the One Percent Doctrine are equally guilty of gross negligence (in my example above, making themselves a threat eighty times worse than any they claim to be protecting us against). And, where death results, they, too, are guilty of negligent homicide.

And death can result.

For one thing, the $2,000 trillion wasted in my example above is money that could have gone into medical research and other programs where it could have been used to save lives. If, in this example, we had done nothing, we would have likely suffered $25 trillion in harm from one of the threats, but had $1,975 trillion to spend on medical research, hunger relief, disease prevention, education, and countless other programs each of which would have saved lives. As a matter of fact, the follower of the One Percent Doctrine has said, "All of you we could have saved with this wealth will have to suffer and die so that we can waste the resources over here instead."

Let us not forget the fact that the One Percent Doctrine has already been used to justify a war that has, in fact, resulted in the destruction of trillions of dollars worth of property, the diversion of trillions of dollars more, the deaths of over a hundred thousand people, the suffering of tens of millions, and, so far, six years of horror in the lives of children who did not acquire the education resources they will need to be successful adults. This is just one case where the One Percent Doctrine slipped from reckless endangerment to negligent homicide.

Next, we need to ask why certain people in the Climate Change Debate find this morally and rationally absurd principle attractive. Are they motivated by a sincere desire to prevent harm?

Hardly. Somebody motivated by a sincere desire to prevent harm would easily notice that this doctrine leads to far more harm than it prevents. The only principle that actually prevents harm is one that says we should live in the real world and use real world facts. We treat a 1% chance that something will happen as a 1% chance - we do not argue that 1% = 100%. We treat a 50% chance that something will happen as being as likely as not. And we treat a 99% chance that something will happen as a 99% chance - we do not argue that 99% = 0%.

What has happened is that these agents have fallen in love with a policy to the point that they are driven to pursue the policy regardless of whether or not it makes sense. Their love for the policy means that they will seek out any excuse - no matter how stupid or irrational - that gives that policy a cloak of legitimacy.

They need to remind themselves that the morally responsible goal is not to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The morally responsible goal is to prevent harm - and we cannot prevent harm with the One Percent Rule. We cause harm that could otherwise be prevented with that rule. So it is not a rule that a morally responsible person would adopt.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Climate Change: The Need for Proof Argument

You are the first mate on an ocean liner, when the Captain gives the following order. "You are to proceed at full speed without any deviation in course and speed unless and until you have absolute proof that there is an iceberg straight ahead. Then and only then are you permitted to take preventative action."

Or, you are an adult supervisor on a bus trip with a bunch of school children. The bus is approaching a train crossing. Yet, the driver says, "I am not slowing down unless and until I have absolute proof that the bus will not be across the tracks before the train gets here."

We know these people to be guilty of the moral crime of reckless endangerment.

If these types of people wish to take actions that risk their own lives, we may leave that up to them. They pay the costs for their own mistakes. However, when they put the lives of others at risk, then they are guilty of a moral crime.

We have good reason to condemn people like this and to condemn them in very harsh terms. They are responsible for the deaths and suffering of a great many people every year.

Now, we have a whole slew of these types of people engaging in reckless endangerment of whole cities and whole populations. They have already maimed and killed a great many people and destroyed a great deal of property, and they seem to have no qualms about continuing along the same course of action. In all cases, they behave as people who are almost if not entirely indifferent to the death and suffering of others - because they are not motivated to take any action that would avoid potential death and suffering.

The morally responsible person would not demand proof that there is an iceberg straight ahead before slowing down and taking precautions. The mere possibility of an iceberg is good enough. His responsibilities to his passengers demands that he take precautions to reduce the possibility of catastrophe - not that he act as if there is no risk until catastrophe is certain.

The responsible bus driver will not risk racing the train at the crossing. She will take precautions to protect the well-being of the children trusted to her, which means slowing down and avoiding the possibility of harm coming to them.

These same principles of moral responsibility demands that, in the face of risk of massive destruction due to climate change, that people slow down and reduce the risk. It does not require absolute proof.

Principles of rationality give us a simple formula for determining how much caution to use in the face of risk. The basic form states that the amount that it is rational to spend avoiding risk is equal to the cost times the probability.

It is worth spending up to $250 billion to avoid a 1% chance of suffering $25 trillion in harm.

It is worth spending up to $2.5 trillion in avoiding a 10% chance of suffering $25 trillion in harm.

It is worth spending $12.5 trillion to avoid a 50% chance of suffering $25 trillion in harm.

It is worth $22.5 trillion to avoid a 90% chance of suffering $25 trillion in harm.

This is what rationality and moral responsibility commands. Those who do not follow this formula are guilty of reckless endangerment. When we think of them, we should have the same reaction that we have thinking of the cruise boat captain demanding absolute proof of an iceberg or the bus driver demanding absolute proof that she will not make it across the tracks in time to avoid the train. Except, we should think of those who use the "Need for Proof" argument as willing to risk the destruction of whole cities and whole populations.

As it turns out, the "Do nothing" subset of global warming deniers are recommending exactly the same course of action as an arrogant and presumptuous person who claims, "There is a 0% chance that I am wrong when I say nothing bad will happen, and a 100% chance that anybody who says otherwise, regardless of the evidence they provide, must be mistaken."

It is worth spending $0 to avoid a 0% chance of suffering $25 billion in harm.

While these people like to crow on about the fallibility of science, they neglect to mention their own fallibility - the possibility that they are wrong and that these costs are real. They argue that the fallibility of science means that it is not permissible to take any (or only the most minimal) steps in avoiding harm. They argue that we should behave as if they, the global-warming deniers, have a greater than 99% chance in being right in claiming that no harm will come from greenhouse emissions. That all of the evidence collected to date provides a less than 1% chance that they are wrong, and that we may behave accordingly.

If you see this "Need for Proof" argument in the claims made by somebody writing on global warming policy, you know you are dealing with somebody with a moral character many times worse than that of the ship captain or the bus driver that I mentioned above. You are dealing with somebody who will risk the lives of not only a few hundred passengers or a couple dozen school children, but is willing to put whole cities at risk. You know that you are talking to somebody who lacks the moral character to act in a morally responsible manner.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Climate Change: The Mere Fact of Natural Change

I am identifying garbage arguments that appear in the claims of morally contemptible anti-warming-deniers that are easily to discredit but still used. Their use indicates that those who use it have little or no concern with the potential destruction of whole cities.

They are reckless individuals who have little regard to the harm that might come to others as a result of their actions. If they were not morally contemptible individuals - if they were morally responsible individuals with a proper concern for the welfare of others - they would not allow these arguments to contaminate their claims in the debate regarding global warming.

So far I have referenced the Three Percent Argument, the Its Not The End of the World argument, and the Ice Age Fears of the 1970s Argument.

Another garbage argument found in the political arena holds that it is clearly the case that carbon dioxide levels (and global temperatures) have changed in the past. Yet, clearly, humans had nothing to do with those changes. Therefore, the argument goes, we may dismiss any claims that humans are responsible for the changes we see in the climate today.

Imagine a trial in which an individual is being accused of murder. In any murder trial, a conviction or acquittal must be based on the evidence presented in this case. However, the defense attorney makes the following argument:

"I have records here of a billion people who died, none of whom were murdered by my client. Here is a case of an individual who fell down a mine shaft to his death thirty years before my client was even born. And here I have an account of a general who was shot and killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. My client obviously did not murder him. I have the parish of a town in France that lists scores of people who were killed when black death swept through the town. My client did not murder them. With all of these deaths that were not caused by my client, clearly you must return a verdict of 'not guilty' in accusing my client of this particular murder."

This might be a great argument for befuddling the jury and confusing them into giving a bad verdict. However, it is a garbage argument. Yes, we know that there are a lot of different ways in which people can die other than by being murdered by this particular defendant. Yet, the question before the court is whether this death was brought about by the defendant in a way that constitutes murder. The video and the forensic evidence are sufficient to show that, in this case, the defendant is guilty in spite of the fact that billions of people have died of other causes.

Of course, in proving one's case one has to examine and rule out other potential causes. However, the mere fact that other potential causes exists - the mere fact that people have died that the client did not murder - the mere fact that CO2 levels have changed independent of human activity - is not proof of innocence.

The question the responsible person asks is, "Have these options been investigated and reason given to dismiss them?" The morally reckless individual asserts over and over again that humans are not the only things that cause these changes as if that is sufficient to prove that humans cannot be blamed.

Similarly, we know for a fact that there are things other than human activity that affect the global climate. However, it is morally irresponsible to claim that this fact alone is enough to prove that humans are not responsible for activities that affect the climate today and in the future. That argument depends on the evidence presented in this case.

If ever you see the Natural Climate Change argument in the claims made by a global-warming denier, think of this defense attorney using the "My Client Could Not Have Killed Everybody" argument to argue that his client should be declared innocent of murder. Where this argument appears, you have sufficient evidence to conclude that the person making it morally contemptible individual who has no qualms against contaminating public discussion with garbage arguments.

You are dealing with somebody who does not care about the possibility that he could be misleading people into behaving in ways that could lead to the destruction of whole cities. He is, quite content to spew garbage and, if it leads to the deaths of whole populations, so be it, That is not his concern.

A morally responsible person, on the other hand, will take the pains to figure out whether the arguments he is thinking of putting into his works are sound or not - whether they provide good evidence in support of his conclusion or are garbage arguments. He is as interested in avoiding garbage arguments as he is in providing good arguments. He refuses to argue recklessly when there is so much potentially at stake, just as he would refuse to drive while drunk or to point a found gun at a random stranger and pull the trigger. Concern over who might unjustly suffer as a result of his actions prevents this type of recklessness.

Accordingly, a person who commits this type of recklessness lacks the concerns that a morally responsible person would have. He is reckless, and is as contemptible and worthy of condemnation as the drunk driver or the shootist. He is, in fact, orders of magnitude worse than the drunk driver or the shootist because his intellectual recklessness shows that he is indifferent to potential harms that are orders of magnitude worse than those that the drunk driver or the shootist might inflict on others.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Climate Change: The Ice Age Fears of the 1970s

Another argument that we see repeated among global-warming deniers is the argument that scientists 40 years ago were warning about the coming ice age. Now they warn us about global warming. Just as they were wrong about the ice age, it is safe to assume that they are wrong about global warming.

Dennis Miller brought out a copy of a Newsweek cover story on the David Letterman show a while back warning about the coming ice age, and from that cover he concluded - and invited his audience to conclude - that global warming was a hoax. He invited them to do nothing about a potential threat to whole cities and the suffering of whole people on the basis of an argument that only a person who is callously indifferent to those costs could have used.

He made a choice to go on a highly rated national television show to make this argument. If a person makes that type of choice, he takes on the moral responsibility to make sure that what he is saying makes sense. It is one thing for me to get a piece of data wrong in the comment section of a blog. It would have been something quite different for me to have gotten that data wrong if I had been in front of a multi-million person audience.

I am going to get to the facts behind that cover story in a moment. For now, I am going to assume that the story had merit, and that scientists really were concerned with a new ice age 40 years ago.

There is nothing in science that says that scientists are prohibited from changing their minds in the face of additional data.

If you want a discipline where people refuse to change their mind regardless of new evidence, go to church. It is the very nature of science that any theory can be overthrown at any minute as soon as new and better data comes along.

Miller's argument has the same absurdity as claiming, "Look, scientists once thought that malaria was caused by bad air. Look, it's in the name - mal-aria (bad air). Now they tell us it is caused by bacteria that you get from mosquito bites and that we should control the mosquito population. Obviously, we don't need to do anything about the mosquitoes because these scientists do not know what they are talking about."

So, even if we assume that scientists seriously thought we needed to fear an ice age 40 years ago, it is foolish to imply that, with additional evidence, they do not have a better understanding of what we need to fear today. When Dennis Miller decided to go on national television and present his argument, he at least had an obligation to take a look at the reasonableness of his claims.

I consider this to be one of the most contemptible arguments used against scientific findings among those who wish to bury its conclusions. It is the very nature of science that new data will lead scientists to change their mind. Scientists do not have a book of dogma that must at all times be taken as literally true and which no amount of evidence will call into question. If that were the case, then we would still today be stuck with the 'science' of Hippocrates and Ptolemy. Science gives up old ideas for new ideas when better evidence provides it.

Yet, the perpetuators of dogma like to use the argument that since scientists change their mind in light of new evidence, we are not permitted to trust anything that scientists tell us. The only people who we are supposed to trust are those who insist on holding to their opinion - their dogma - regardless of what evidence might be brought against it.

This is entirely backwards.

A responsible person properly worried about the potential destruction of whole cities if he were wrong would have asked the question, "Is there any reason to believe I am wrong?" He would have done his research, and it would not have taken him long to find his answer.

The very fact that Dennis Miller was not motivated to do his homework tells us that he really did not care about the potential costs of being wrong. It says that he, unlike the morally responsible person described above, must have been substantially indifferent to the potential destruction and suffering that he could contribute to by misleading people in this way.

Once again, I remind you that he made the deliberate and intentional decision to use his time before millions of people to present this bogus argument.

But the situation is far worse.

Consider the fact that the source that Dennis Miller used in arguing that scientists 40 years ago were worried about a new ice age (and, thus, we have no reason to be concerned about global warming today) was a Newsweek cover story. If one wanted to show that scientists 40 years ago were certain about a coming ice age, one should be able to come armed with a long list of articles in peer-reviewed scientific literature comparable to what we see today with respect to global warming.

The story, The Cooling World does not cite any peer-reviewed literature. It quotes scientists who are concerned about the implications of climate change. However, those quotes are neutral as to whether the people making them were concerned about warming or cooling. It does not give any evidence that scientists were united in predicting any type of cooling - and the peer reviewed literature tells us that there was no evidence to give.

However, there is no such list. The Time Magazine cover story is being used as a prop in an act of deception. I cannot say whether this is an act of deliberate deception or gross negligence. However, I can say that those who perpetuated this fiction could have easily checked the facts before presenting their argument. Their failure to do so suggests a gross lack of concern for the potential destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations that they could otherwise be contributing to.

There was, in fact, ONE paper in the peer-reviewed literature in 1976 that argued that "increases in carbon dioxide should be associated with a decrease in global temperatures". The authors in this case argued that CO2 production was associated with the production of atmospheric aerosols. While CO2 contributes to warming, the aerosols contribute to cooling. As the temperature record for the previous three decades had shown, the effect of the aerosols exceeded that of CO2.

(Bryson, R.A. and G.J. Dittberner, 1976: "A non-equilibrium model of hemispheric mean surface temperature. Journal of Atmospheric Science, 33, 2094-2106.)

Other scientists quickly responded that CO2 remains in the air a lot longer than aerosols (that are washed out of the atmosphere in the rain). Therefore, the aerosol effect was only a short-term effect. The short-term effect of aerosols, combined with pollution laws that severely cut back on the amount of aerosols being released into the atmosphere, quickly eliminated the aerosol effect. What we have seen since then is the long-range effect of CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.

ONE peer-reviewed paper quickly refuted, producing some front-page headlines (because these types of stories help to sell newspapers and news magazines) becomes the basis for rejecting all of the global science research that has been done.

On an issue relevant to the potential destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations, this is not an innocent mistake. This amounts to gross negligence. Clearly, whatever aversion the author of such a statement has to these huge costs, it was not enough to motivate that agent to do a little bit of fact-checking to discover the true story behind the ice-age fears of the 1970s.

Like the drunk driver who is willing to risk killing people so that he can get home, the global-warming denier who uses the 1970s ice-age fears as a reason to reject global warming science is a creature worthy of our contempt. He is not willing to do even a little bit of investigation or even to ask some simple questions relevant to the logic of these types of claims.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Climate Change: It's Not the End of the World

"What does it matter that, by following my advice, my friend gave the kid third degree burns over fifty percent of his whole body? The kid didn't die."

What would you think of the moral character of a person who made this type of claim.

So, consider the moral character of the claim, "What does it matter that we destroy whole cities and cause widespread suffering among whole populations? We didn't destroy the earth?"

I hear that latter comment - or something very much like it - among the global warming deniers quite regularly. Usually it takes the form, "CO2 levels were much higher in the past than they are now, and it wasn't the end of the world."

Nope, it wasn't "the end of the world." However, there are a lot of things that humans have reason to be concerned about other than "the end of the world." The idea that, "If it does not bring about the end of the world, then it is not worth worrying about" is absurd.

It displays the same type of moral callousness as, "My victim did not die, so I have done no wrong.'

The culprit in my example - the person who encouraged a friend to act to as to cause a kid to be severely burned - is a paradigm of virtue when held up against the "not the end of the world" global-warming denier. The person in my example brings about the suffering of one kid. It is a lot of suffering to be sure, but it is only one kid.

The global-warming denier who treats us to the "not the end of the world" argument is willing to see the destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations. As long as the world does not end, it doesn't matter.

However, the peculiar thing is that we do not TREAT the "not-the-end-of-the-world" denier the way we treat the, "I burned the kid but did not kill him" denier of harm. In the latter case, we truly are trained to respond with moral outrage - and moral outrage is well deserved. We can't have those types of attitudes running around in our society. The idea of tolerating the attitude that whatever does not kill a child is permissible is intolerable.

Yet, there is even less of a reason to find the attitude, "That which does not end the world is permissible" that some global-warming deniers give us. Here is an example in which our moral sense simply is not properly tuned. We are giving a moral pass on something that is far more morally horrendous than something that we find absolutely intolerable.

The proof that we give a moral pass on this kind of argument is that it is quite common in discussions of global warming, and yet our reaction to that claim is much, much milder than our reaction would be to somebody who made a similar claim about burning a child.

I suspect that the reason for this is that, until recently, the moral callousness of being indifferent to the destruction of whole cities has not been much of an issue. We have not had to train our children for moral outrage against that type of person, because the capacity to bring about the widespread destruction of whole cities did not exist before. There was the potential of wiping out whole cities in a war, but this was not callous indifference to the destruction of whole cities. This was tribal "us" versus "them" sentiments getting out of hand.

Now, casual indifference to the destruction of whole cities risks inaction when whole cities are actually at risk of destruction. Now, there is a cost of ignoring the moral crime of indifference to such destruction. Now, we have real, practical, real-world reason to condemn the person who says, "It does not matter if whole cities are destroyed, as long as the Earth itself is not destroyed," as somebody morally much worse than the person who says, "It does not matter if a child is burned over 50% of his body, as long as he wasn't killed."

We may need to train ourselves to have the aversion to such a person that the moral situation now requires. One way we can do that - one way we can train our emotions - is by recognizing the logical equivalence of relevant moral analogies, and by recognizing that we are talking about the real-world effects of real-world actions.

The next time you encounter a global-warming denier who uses the "not the end of the world" argument, think of a person who has just said, "It does not matter whether I burned the kid over 50% of his body. I didn't kill him." Think about that type of person, and recognize that the person you are discussing global warming with has just said something much, much worse.



It is time for my standard statement that regular readers to this blog are sick of. The right to freedom of speech is not a right to immunity from condemnation for what one says and writes. However, it IS a right to immunity from violence in response to what one says or writes. Legitimate responses must be limited to words (including words of condemnation) and non-violent actions.

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.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I challenge the executives of organizations involved in global warming denial to step away from their keyboards and allow a neutral third party to download their emails and post them on the web. I would like to see how well they follow the moral requirements that they insist on imposing on others.

A lot of ink and electrons are currently being wasted on a discussion of the contents of some email files stolen from the East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which is heavily involved in climate change research. Those emails have been quote-mined for a few select quotes that suggest that the authors were trying to "hide the decline" and (GASP!) keep sub-standard scientific research out of professional scientific publications.

Spend some time looking over your own emails and see if there you can't find things in thousands of emails that can't be quite-mined by somebody with an axe to grind against you.

It is interesting to note, however, that in all of these emails they were only able to find a few select quotes and no evidence as far as I have seen of scientists engaged in a conspiracy for the purpose of maintaining funding that would have otherwise been lost.

This causes me to wonder what we would find if we looked at the email of those who vocally deny the existence of global warming.

One thing we would not find on those emails is an intelligent fact-based discussion of the merits of anti-global-warming science. This is because there is no such thing as anti-global-warming science. All of the science favors the conclusion that humans are putting enough greenhouse gas into the atmosphere to significantly warm the planet.

There might be a few emails that honestly assess the climate change data, and they may identify a few real problems, but this is going to be an extremely small portion of the overall email content.

Expecting to find good science among the emails of global-warning deniers is like expecting to find good science among the emails of young-earth creationists or the directors of the Creation Museum. It is absurd to expect such a thing.

Instead, the only thing global warming deniers have to talk about - and what is almost certain to occupy the bulk of their emails, is how they are going to muddy the water and hide the scientific facts from the voting public. The objective here is to manipulate the public into behaving the way that benefits a few industry executives - into protecting what amounts to a multi-trillion dollar subsidy by preventing them from understanding on and acting on the truth of global warming - and of what it will cost those people, their neighbors, and their descendants.

I am not talking about some grand conspiracy theory such as the claims that the moon landings were faked or a secret international organization secretly pulls the strings behind every government on earth for their own benefit. I am talking about an industry trying to protect the economic equivalent of trillions of dollars in government subsidies spending a few hundred million dollars muddying the water and burying the facts that would cause people to take away those subsidies.

We are talking here about a group of people who are substantially indifferent to the destruction of whole cities and even whole nations and the misery of whole populations. We have good evidence of this in the poor quality of the arguments that they put forth in denying global warming. They are good arguments that are effective at convincing people who get their information in two-minute sound bytes from the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, but they are arguments that any intellectually and morally responsible person would throw in the garbage.

I will be looking at some of those arguments in the posts to come and showing not only that the arguments are flawed, but that a morally responsible person who is not indifferent to the destruction of whole cities and whole nations would never use those arguments and condemn any who did.

Am I wrong about this?

Well, one way that the global-warming deniers can prove their perfect moral virtue is by stepping away from the computers and allowing people unrestricted access to their email files. If they have nothing to hide, then what reason could they possibly give to refuse having others do to them what they are more than happy to do to others.

Of course, since we are dealing with people who are substantially indifferent to the destruction of whole cities and the misery of whole populations and who show absolutely no moral conscience when it comes to manipulating people into doing things that could cost those people their lives, we should not be at all surprised that they have no problem with the moral crime of hypocrisy either.

Am I wrong about this?

Well, they can prove it easily enough. All they need to do is open their email servers up to public viewing. Let them prove their superior moral and intellectual qualities to the world.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Worst People in the World: Ignorant Global Warming Deniers

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.