Monday, December 27, 2010

Denialists want to pretend global warming will be good for some people -- and not bad for every species on the planet

-- by Dave

If you wanted a prime example of the kind of blinkered, circular dumbassery that passes for right-wing thinking on global climate change -- or for that matter, any kind of science issue -- check out the discussion that emerged this weekend over this absurd contribution from economist Stefan Karlsson in the Christian Science Monitor:

What has always troubled me the most with the view that we needs to stop "climate change" in the form of "global warming" is the idea that it would be bad if the Earth became warmer.

Sure, that could be negative in some areas for some reasons, but it would also be beneficial in other areas for other reasons. Suppose for example that Antarctica, or at least parts of it, would become habitable due to a warmer climate, wouldn't that be a good thing that could possibly outweigh possible problems elsewhere

... Note that some "climate change" theories argue that "global warming" could lead to colder weather in for example northern Europe. But even assuming that this is really true, it begs the question of why colder weather is bad there but good everywhere else. And this cold weather will largelly undo the initial warming effect, leaving us with little to worry about, assuming "global warming" is bad.

Fairly typical of an economist to only consider the surface economic effects of global climate change with nary a word about the far more significant biological impacts that are heading our way like a big runaway train careering down the tracks.

Sure enough, the usual half-thinkers of the wingnutosphere were happy to promote this nonsense, including Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse, who remarked: "The reason is that when [IF!] global warming sets in, there will be winners and losers, and those who predict that they will win understand the value of circumspection and restraint." (Even more absurd is the outright denialism that dominated the comments to this post.)

Actually, the reason to be concerned is that EVERYONE loses -- every species on the planet will suffer, including human beings. Even wealthy, conceited, arrogant conservative human beings.

But this is fairly typical right-wing cant when it comes to climate change -- believing that the only impacts of global phenomena are to be found in the obvious manifestations they can see. Remember how, last winter, everyone on Fox was trying to argue that the heavy East Coast snowstorms somehow disproved that global warming was occurring?

So let's leave aside the reality that rising ocean levels will seriously impact the globe's coastal populations, particularly those in the Third World. Leave aside the certainty that many of the world's forests (and thus their oxygen-producing capacities) are going to be burning up and dying because of climate change. And leave aside the likelihood that the world's storms -- hurricanes, tornadoes, rainstorms and snowstorms -- likely will be increasing significantly in intensity, killing many more human beings than they already do.

Let's consider instead simply a small spectrum of the impact global warming will have on the world's oceans -- our coral reefs. Because the evidence is nearly indisputable that, because of climate change, the world's coral reefs are rapidly dying.

This isn't even being seriously contested by anyone, and we've known it for awhile. In 2006, there was this National Geographic report, based on a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describing how global warming is devastating the world's coral reefs. It has been borne out by numerous studies, including one published in Science in 2007.

No one is even attempting to claim that this effect is not happening. Indeed, the concern has only been intensifying in more recent years. See, for instance, the maps showing the loss of calclifiers in the oceans, which inevitably is leading to a significant loss of biodiversity within the world's oceanic ecosystems.

Well, OK, the denialists might try to say -- sure, we can lose some coral reefs, but it really won't matter, except to tourists in Australia and Hawaii and Mexico and the people who make a living from them. At least, that's what one would expect, given the kind of dumbassery they regularly spout.

Consider the biological reality that the world's ecosystems are intricately interconnected webs -- and when you start pulling out strands, especially significant ones that form the backbone of the structure, eventually it all collapses.

But the significance of the loss of coral reefs runs even deeper than that. It is really only an indicator of the massive effects that human activity is having on the world's ecosystems -- an effect that endangers our ability to feed ourselves, and sustain ourselves as a biological species.

The chief problem here is the acidifcation of the world's oceans -- which, as the scientists studying it point out, is not even slightly controversial:

"Unlike global warming, which can manifest itself in nuanced, complex ways, the science of ocean acidification is unambiguous," said Andrew Dickson, a Scripps professor of marine chemistry.

"The chemical reactions that take place as increasing amounts of carbon dioxide are introduced to seawater have been established for nearly a century."

Even more important, the impacts include a significant loss for the world's food supply:

"We know that the increasing concentration of CO2 [in the air] is making the oceans more acidic," Mr Benn told BBC News.

"It affects marine life, it affects coral, and that in turn could affect the amount of fish in the sea - and a billion people in the world depend on fish for their principal source of protein.

"It doesn't get as much attention as the other problems; it is really important."

There are related effects involved here as well, including the impact that changing ocean temperatures have on oceanic upwelling, which is one of the important ways that a multitude of species -- from whales to salmon to herring -- are able to feed and sustain themselves.

All in all, it's absurd to contemplate that global warming might make make things more pleasant in some locales -- such as making the Antarctic habitable (as though that would not wipe out hundreds of animal species too) -- while ignoring the massive biological effects of the phenomenon, which ultimately have not just economic but other real-world effects too, such as mass starvation and increased conflict over the remaining and rapidly diminishing natural resources around the globe.

Maybe an economist like Karlsson should take the time to more seriously examine the economics of the problem. Here's a good place for him to start: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.

As for the wingnutosphere denialists, they're beyond help. When the waves are lapping at their doors and they find themselves unable to feed their families because food simply isn't available, they'll somehow find a way to claim that it really isn't a problem. And it's all liberals' fault anyway.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

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