Wednesday, April 19, 2017

on Climate Change

I thought I’d look at the topic of Climate Change through the lens of the problem solving methodology we use where I work.  Whatever you think about Climate Change, you might agree that people tend to first form a conclusion and then look for data to support it…and, of course, explain away or ignore any data that doesn’t support it. Why is that? Politically speaking, if we can definitively tie Climate Change to human activity (CO2 emissions), it’s a perfect opportunity for a power grab—to control a whole lot of human activity. On the other hand, refuting the aforementioned has the opposite effect if one wants to limit government involvement in human activity.

Before a conclusion can be reached for a problem, a hypothesis must be reasoned. Before a hypothesis can be reasoned, relevant data must be gathered & sorted. Before relevant data is sorted, irrelevant data must be weeded out. Before any data is gathered, sorted or weeded, we must know if there is really any problem to begin with. Before we can decide if there is really any problem to begin with, the situation must be made clear. Before a situation can be made clear any ambiguities and over-generalizations must be dealt with.

Beginning at the beginning, we can see that the term “Climate Change” is ambiguous because “change” can mean too many different things to too many different people. I went to a NASA website for clarification on what is changing. I found these:

  • See levels are rising
  • Ice sheets are shrinking
  • Arctic sea ice is declining
  • Glaciers are retreating
  • Snow cover is decreasing
  • Oceans are acidifying
  • Extreme weather events are increasing
  • The Earth and oceans are warming (Global Warming)

Whatta mess! Looking at one thing at a time, we should look at the most serious concern first, which would be the concern with the biggest current and future impact.  I’ll go forward with the premise that Global Warming is the highest priority concern on the list above because it could conceivably be causing most of the other things on the list.

If my superiors at work were to ask our group to look into the Global Warming situation, we would first look at something called “The Should” and also something called “The Actual”. For this case, “The Actual” would be the current average global temperature assuming we can get a reliable measurement. “The Should” would be the Earth’s “normal” average temperature range…the way it should be. What would be the upper limit of that range and what would be the lower limit? I can tell you that a huge difficulty we’d run into right away is defining “The Should”.

But why not just look at the rise in CO2 since that is the presumed main cause of the warming? We could, but we’d invariably be back to the same questions about the Earth’s temperature. What “Should” is good? I work for a large manufacturer of imaging products and we’ll define “The Should” for a product or system based on historical manufacturing records and control limits and/or established industry standards among other things. There are no such standards for the Earth’s average temperature range that I know of, but we can look at history.

Let’s suppose we have about 200 years of accurate global temperature data. My guess is that it is much less than 200 years because of the many years with no satellite temperature data from space, but we’ll go with it. The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, but I’d say the climate 4.5 billion years ago is irrelevant data for humans living today. Let’s go back an amount of time in which the first mammals were happily living on Earth, breathing clean air and drinking clean water. Mammals go back about 200 million years. Keep in mind that 200 million years is only 4% of the Earth’s lifetime, so it’s a relatively short period of time to look at, but we’ll go with it. 200 years of temperature data in 200 million years would represent .0001% of the time.

To put this in context, the Dow Jones Industrial average (DJIA) has been around for about 120 years. .0001% of 120 years is about 63 minutes. Suppose that something very bad were to happen in the world on the next trading day causing the DJIA to dive 1000 points from 1:00PM to 2:03PM. At 2:04PM, should we conclude a long term financial disaster and an urgent need for more industry regulation? I’d say no.

For even more context, consider that 0001% of ten years is about 5.3 minutes. Suppose you walk into a ten year old home for the very first time with a family inside going about their business and you begin measuring the temperature. You note a warming trend of about 1°C after about 5.3 minutes and announce a domestic warming crisis and begin to regulate the families’ activity. Seems like hysteria to me without more data.

In either the case of the family home or the DJIA, if you were to declare a crisis and an urgent need for regulation you’d likely be on the receiving end of some blank stares.

This does not mean there should be no concern for Global Warming. In my profession I would need to report that there is not enough information to define “The Should”, so we would likely move this issue away from a problem analysis and into a decision analysis. Problem analysis focuses on the question “Why did it happen?” while decision analysis focuses on the question “What should we do?”

A good decision in this arena is above my pay grade. But… before a decision can be reached, options must be reasoned. Before options are reasoned, relevant data must be gathered & sorted for each option. Before relevant data is gathered & sorted for each option, the decision objectives must be clear.  Before objectives can be made clear, we need to clarify the purpose. Before we can clarify the purpose, we need to know what we are trying to do.

Whatever the decision, let’s be aware of two opposing extremes…

#1 Nature Worship
The view that nature is “perfect” just the way it is acts as a kind of secular “dogma”. With this as a base premise, we can see the logic that concludes the following…any unnatural interference or manipulation of nature for the benefit of man is a deprivation of nature’s perfection, and a good definition of evil is just that—a deprivation of perfection.1 Therefore, defending anything in nature against man is intrinsically “good” and promoting man’s industrialization and expansion is intrinsically “evil”.

#2 Nature’s Neglect
Beware of any ideology that says man can and should interfere and manipulate nature anyway we see fit. God wants us to take care of the temporary dwelling place he gave us. “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” (Gen 2:15) So if we are to be good stewards of all the gifts God gives us, including the Earth, should we not be trustworthy stewards?  Of course we should! “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Cor 4:2)

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’s Shorter Summa (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2002), p. 125.