Monday, August 13, 2012

Abrupt, Irreversible Tipping Points - Anthropomorphizing Climate Change

Search anywhere on the Internet for stories about Climate Change or Global Warming and you'll find the terms "abrupt," irreversible" and "tipping points." The last phrase is particularly egregious, now attributed to every manner of natural phenomena, as if all natural processes teeter on the brink of disaster.

This turns out not to be the case.

The problem is not so much intellectual dishonesty, scientific ineptitude nor self-serving agendas, though they are all at play as well. The reason the headlines abound in such mind-boggling maloprops is science and policy writers are desperately trying to translate highly technical climate science research into terms that non-scientists can absorb and embrace. 

It is not literally true that climate variation is “abrupt.” Abrupt is a judgment term coined by hasty humans to describe rapid change, to which we Homo sapiens are evolutionarily disposed to notice. “Abrupt” adds a note of immediacy and panic to what otherwise is an unnoticeable phenomenon, the gradual change of climate over centuries.

“Irreversible” adds to the urgency of the coming “abrupt” climate change, implying that once the climate “abruptly” changes in one direction, it will never, ever, cross my heart and hope to die, change back. This, of course, is absurd! Natural processes are never unidirectional, if they even, indeed, ever have a direction. “Irreversible,” “abrupt” climate change connotes something negative, something bad, something that we must avoid at any cost. Odd, this, in that we never think of changes in plate tectonics, vulcanism, gravity, cosmic rays, or the precession of the solar system as having direction, speed or irreversibility. 

These concepts applied to climate change are chosen and utilized purposefully and for specific agendas, seeking very cynically to produce a desired mental state in the minds of the public and policy making institutions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seeks to heighten alarm over climate variation in support of its parent organization, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), whose purpose is “To provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.” In other words, Sustainable Development. The purpose of the IPCC is to provide UNEP with policy recommendations to support UNEP’s goal of transferring large sums of money from developed to less developed countries to support Sustainable Development projects, aka economic growth. 

The scientific community lives in a world dominated by the struggle for funding for their parent agencies, be they academic, governmental or non-governmental organizations. When devising and submitting a research proposal, one must identify funding sources for that research, and submit grant applications amenable to those fundings sources’ ideals and purposes. Research funding sources in climate science are dominated by agencies supportive of the IPCC and its goals and therefore most interested in funding research projects supportive of the concept of “abrupt,” “irreversible” “tipping points” in natural climate variability.

The political community lives in a world dominated by corporate funding for political campaigns, so that it is now impossible to separate the views of any political officer or candidate from the source of his or her funding. Catastrophic climate change has become the litmus test of political candidacy. No candidate who questions the scientific orthodoxy of anthropogenic global warming has any chance of being elected to government office, because the money is solidly backing the global warming horse race.

Those who feather their own nests with global warming hyperbole use the tactics of fear, just as in the war on terror, the war on drugs and the war on ecoterrorism. These complex concepts are made simplistic through caricature and emotionalism, ascribing human emotions to physical phenomenon. Thus we hear of “angry” storms, “fierce tornadoes,” and other inappropriate emotions ascribed to weather.

Climate change is always described as negative, open-ended and unidirectional. Any change, either warmer or colder, wetter or drier, stormier or calmer, is considered detrimental to life, regardless of any historical data to the contrary.

This use of propaganda to achieve a political and/or economic end has a long history in human affairs. One would think we would have learned by now that those who wield the stick of fear are not to be trusted.

But then, one would have to think.