Monday, August 22, 2011

Climate Change - The Tub Analogy - Causes We Can Control

A member of the studio audience made a comment regarding the tub analogy on climate change that deserves some consideration.

The tub analogy is a response to the claim that human CO2 emissions do not matter because human-caused CO2 emissions are only 3% of total emissions.

I responded by suggesting a tub that where the volume of water in the tub has stayed constant at around 270 gallons for 10,000 years. 210 gallons flow into the tub each year, and 210 gallons flow out. Now, you open a faucet that adds another 7 gallons per year to the tub, and now you see the volume of water increasing by 3.5 gallons per year. Of course anybody with any sense would say that turning on the faucet is responsible for the increased volume of water in the tub.

It doesn't matter if CO2 levels are rising because of emissions, cosmic rays, solar flares, or fairy dust. They're rising. The fact of the matter is that the only input we can stop right now is the faucet. We only control the man-made input. The longer we wait to close it, the more water damage we have to clean up later.

This is true.

I had written this into the previous post - but deleted it. It introduces an assumption that demagogues can use to drag red herrings across the trail and divert the discussion while burying the main and relevant point. So, to avoid a school of red herrings, I removed that part of the previous post.

However, the point is still valid.

It doesn't matter what the cause of the increase is - natural or manmade. What matters is that the faucet is the only source of input under our control, so it is the only one we can use to influence the rate at which the tub is filling up, to the point that we may need to do so.

Let us assume that we have an engineers' report that says if the volume of water in the tub reaches around 550 gallons it will crack the foundation. Since we turned on the faucet, the volume of water has started to increase. It has reached 390 gallons, and it continues to increase at 3.5 gallons per year.

This means we have about 46 years until the foundation cracks.

By turning the faucet down, we can buy ourselves some time. The more we turn it down, the more time we buy.

Even if the reason for the increase was some natural source we could not control, we can still control the rate at which the tub is filling by turning the faucet that is within our control.

Critics may then want to claim that the engineers' report is wrong and we have no reason to be concerned with the rate at which the tub is filling up. This is a legitimate concern. More importantly, it puts the discussion exactly where it needs to be - on the question of whether we have reason to be concerned with the rate at which the tub is filling. It takes the focus away from the nonsense question of whether the faucet within our control is "the cause" of the increase.

If somebody actually cares about what the right answer is, they would completely avoid this 3% argument. It is not at all difficult to see that it is not relevant. So, whenever somebody actually uses this argument, I think it is likely that he is either ideologically blind, or he can see that it is not relevant but does not care to avoid using it to deceive others.

A person doesn't need to know a thing about the science of climate change to know that this is a garbage argument. It is a garbage argument no matter what the facts are. It completely defies logic.

If we need to control the rate at which the tub is filling to avoid some harmful effects, we reach for the faucet we can turn. Is that REALLY such a hard concept to grasp - except by those who do not want to grasp it?

1 comment:

dbonfitto said...

Just to clarify my previous comment, some of us should still be focused on figuring out the exact root cause of the increased input.

The more time we buy ourselves to make such determinations the better, hence cutting back on the faucet right now.