Friday, January 28, 2011

Global Warming

In Octavia Butler’s novel “Parable of the Sower” the main character Lauren Olamina finds herself in the dystopia that the United States has become in the year 2025. The society is near collapse and Lauren and her family and neighbors are forced to live in a gated community in order to protect themselves from chaos that is outside of their walls. One of the reasons that Lauren mentions for the downfall of society is global warming. Fortunately we won’t be subjected to the fate that Lauren and her family and neighbors were because there is no such thing as man-made global warming.

Concerns about global warming were first raised in the 1980s. The phenomenom knows as global warming was also referred to as the “greenhouse effect” due to the fact that many scientists believed that global warming was caused by an increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. In 1988 the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, James Hansen, told the U.S. senate committee that there was strong evidence that global waring was being caused by human activity. He warned that if global warming was not reversed then there would be catastrophic climate changes.

When Hansen announced in the summer of 1988 that global warming was here, he predicted that the temperatures would increase 0.35 degrees Celsius over the next ten years. The actual increase was 0.11 degrees Celsius, an error of over 300%. In the scientific community an error of 300% is huge. This shows that James Hansen had no idea what he was talking about.

When NASA launched the rocket that was carrying the Mars Rover, they predicted that it would land on the surface of Mars in two hundred and fifty-three days at 8:11 P.M. California time. It actually landed in two hundred and fifty-three days at 8:35 P.M. That was an error of a few thousandths of a percent. The people at NASA knew what they were talking about and were able to make an accurate prediction. James Hansen was not.

The idea that it’s possible to predict the future climate of the Earth is absurd. Our most accurate weather forecasts can only make predictions for ten days. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has even stated that “In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

It may be true that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising and that It is due to the burning of fossil fuels. It is also true that the temperature of cities across the United States have increased withing the past 70 years; however, it is true that the temperature in smaller towns across the United States has decreased over the past 70 years. I believe that the increase in the temperature of cities across the country can be attributed to the urban heat island effect. The urban heat island effect is the idea that as a city grows the temperature of the city increases due to the increase in concrete and other urban materials that retain heat.

If there is no evidence for global warming and it is impossible to accurately predict the future climate of the Earth then why is there so much fear over global warming? In Michael Crichton’s novel “State of Fear” professor Norman Hoffman brings up an interesting point. He says that “For fifty years, Western nations had maintained their citizens in a state of perpetual fear. Fear of the other side. Fear of nuclear war. The Communist menace. The Iron Curtain. The Evil Empire. And within the Communist countries, the same in reverse. Fear of us. Then, suddenly, in the fall of 1989, it was all finished. Gone, vanished. Over. The fall of the Berlin Wall created a vacuum of fear. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something had to fill it.”

Global warming was the fear that filled that vacuum; however, it is true that we are in the midst of a warming trend that began around 1850, as we were coming out of a four-hundred year “mini ice age.” The fact of the matter is that nobody knows how much of the current warming trend is a natural phenomenon and how much is man-made. We also don’t know how much the Earth is going to warm in the next century. It is impossible for us to predict the future. It is only possible for us to make an informed guess, and an informed guess is still just a guess.

I believe that it is very unlikely that the future that Octavia Butler predicted in her novel “parable of the Sower” is going to take place. Global warming is not going to cause years of drought and the sea level is not going to rise. It is pointless to waste our resources over the fear of global warming. We should be concerned about things that are more important and certain… like who’s going to win the Royal Rumble this Sunday and get to main event Wrestle Mania. I hope it’s Wade Barrett. Go Corre!

Source: “State of Fear” by Michael Crichton


  1. There are three possible responses to this essay, as I see it. On is to frame it in terms of the prompt (how does it respond to the given prompt), one is to frame it in terms of fact (are the things you're saying true?), and one is to frame it in terms of argument (how does the argument function strictly as an argument).

    The first is simplest and most critical is in terms of the prompt. You aren't actually responding in any way to any of the given prompts. I wasn't asking you to evaluate whether Butler's views on some subject are *correct*; this does not respond to any of the three prompts in any coherent way.

    The third (how does it function as an argument) relates to the second (are you right)? You are making a series of highly general claims about climate change, with your only cited source being a novel by a very bad science fiction author (ok, I'll admit that was a cheap shot, but I'll stand by it nonetheless). You are making big, bold claims about an important scientific subject on the basis of what *Michael Crichton* says about it. There is no other support for your position. The point of an essay is to convince people of something; Michael Crichton isn't going to go very far here.

    The remaining question is whether you're right. It's impossible to say anything about climate change without taking a political position, unfortunately, so what I'm saying will, inevitably, be political. Nonetheless, I'll try to say it in as apolitical way as possible.

    Any time I mention anthropogenic climate change, either in this class or outside it, I present it as fact (by that, I mean that it happens - not how much or exactly what its consequences will be). I present it as fact not because I have a PhD in climatology or a related field; neither you nor I have the requisite scientific knowledge to understand the debate. Here's how I understand "fact" on scientific subjects:

    "A fact is a piece of information presented as true by the consensus within a functioning scientific institution. A functioning scientific institution is one which consistently produces falsifiable and reproducible results."

    My argument goes like this.
    1) All of the relevant scientific *institutions* have clear positions on climate change. They say it's happening, and it's caused by us.
    2) The relevant institutions have a track record of producing falsifiable, verifiable results.
    3) When a functioning scientific institution presents a view as the considered, tested, consensus opinion of its members, the proper term to use when referring to that view is as a "fact."

    (continued in 2nd comment)

  2. Some relevant position statements:

    The American Statistical Association.

    American Assocation for the Advancement of Science


    Most damning of all, here's a joint letter stating the positions of 17 of the most relevant scientific organizations, which includes all the major onesJoin Letter

    I could literally go on all day, but there's no point in doing so. My problem isn't, however, with the position you take: it's with the absurd fact that you're putting Michael Crichton as your sole source against, literally, all of the relevant scientific organizations. If you're going to take this position in an academic environment, you need to do it in a rigorous and academically respectable way.

    So here are your problems:
    1) You don't respond to the prompt
    2) Your argument is poorly constructed, and uses evidence from a poor source
    3) You don't contextualize your views within the current views of the scientific community. Scientific arguments need to deal with the positions of actual scientists and of scientific institutions.

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  4. I would just like to make a few points as I am sitting at my computer in my anthropogenic apartment.

    Point number on. Michael Crichton is the single most greatest novelist ever... fact. The work of the likes of Octavia Butler and Marcuse pale in comparison to such literary masterpieces as "Jurassic Park." Maybe when one of Octavia Butler's novels is made into a trilogy, or becomes a New York Times Bestseller I'll consider reading one of her books... entirely.

    Point number three. Michael Crichton sited "literally" hundred of sources. I was just too lazy to copy all of them out of his book.

    Point number four: Just because something is a "fact" doesn't make it true. It was a fact that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the sun revolved around it, but that turned out to be wrong... kinda like global warming. Consensus science is dangerous, which is something that Michael Crichton warned about in his novel. In fact, the IPCC was caught producing false data to push global warming this summer.

  5. We could go in circles forever about the merits of believing Michael Crichton vs. the merits of believing, say, The American Statistician's Association or 96.4% of climate scientists who actually publish on climate change. But these are well-entrenched views. I'm not going to convince you in a paragraph why you should accept the scientific consensus, nor will you convince me that I shouldn't.

    Here's what this should remind you of, totally apart from whether you're right or wrong. You cannot, for purely structural reasons, write a successful 2-3 page essay on an important and controversial subject. Short essays need to deal with well defined, narrow subjects - in this class, generally with a small part of a text. I would never, ever, ask a student to write an essay on a broad topic, let alone a controversial one, in so short a space: "Global warming: true or false" is a subject for a book or a doctoral dissertation, not a few paragraphs.

    To return to my first point: evading the prompt, and substituting an extremely large (and loaded) topic for it, is the problem here. This topic *cannot* work in a space so short. The prompts exist for a reason. For what it's worth, there are ways (using Marcuse, most obviously) in which you could have written a more focused essay about your skepticism, which would have remained on topic.

  6. Tom,

    I, personally, do not know anything credible about global warming, or climate change for that matter. I would like to comment on your approach to the prompt; I have a hard time responding to a purely scientific argument. Having said that, I think there is a weakness in just stating facts, as Adam has pointed out, because it lends to the thinking of false or contorted information.

    I think, aside from maybe a political statement on her fear of global warming, Butler is exaggerating a situation to add to her satire (if I may call it that?). I think, I too, could learn from this, as my prompt focused a lot around the decay of America and the global impacts of such. Butler’s use of extreme, and perhaps unlikely, events thorough the novel are what make it a sci-fi story, so to speak, but if taken too literally, the guts of the story and the message she is trying to send may get lost in the mess. That’s not to say that your argument for/against the likely hood of climate shifts is null (as that would mean my argument is null, too), but maybe we both need to expand upon the ideas and delve deeper into their meanings or values as they pertain to the message.