Why I’m Not Likely To Become A Trillionaire
December 29, 2009 1 Comment
Somewhere deep in a climate-change argument I got into with someone, I ended up coming up with the following, which I think nicely encapsulates the #1 problem I have with climate-change believers:
One effect in isolation is not sufficient to describe a multidimensional physical system.
Of course that one effect I’m talking about is ‘the greenhouse effect’. Because most climate-change believers think their case is made instantly just by pointing to the greenhouse effect. They think that’s all they need to do and they’re done. They are wrong.
Actually though, I do need to amend my principle slightly to the following:
One effect in isolation is not sufficient to describe a multidimensional physical system, unless it is shown that it is.
What we have are essentially a politicized army of self-anointed climate experts seeking to overhaul my life based on their third-grade-level Oral Report on “The Greenhouse Effect” complete with arrows drawn on their giant posterboard coming down from space, hitting the earth, and then bouncing/cycling up and down forever. This argument, such as it is, is based – almost as a matter of pride – on reducing the entire complex oceano-atmospheric-biosphere system governing the earth’s climate evolution to a completely one-dimensional story:
CO2 up, temperature up – CO2 down, temperature down
The climate, in all its glory and diversity, has only one single dimension in the view of these SCIENTIFIC GENIUSES WHO STAND ON THE SIDE OF SCIENCE. That dimension being ‘How much CO2 is there’. Oh, maybe they’ll admit that there’s more to it than that – but they really genuinely love telling only the one-dimensional story, don’t they? When push comes to shove, that’s the basis of their argument, is it not?
To give the example I use often: if one effect were always enough, then I could point to the fact that my bank account earns interest (“The Interest Effect”?) and automatically conclude that I’m going to be a trillionaire. To any doubters I’d just say: “It’s very simple. My bank account earns interest. Therefore each day it has more money in it than the day before. So, given enough time, this system is going to blow up to infinity. It will certainly surpass 1 trillion!” I could even make a giant poster-board with upward-pointing arrows about it and everything. All of which, of course, freely and stupidly ignores all other possible effects on the size of my bank account, such as rent, bills, trips to Vegas, etc. etc.
Let’s be clear about something though: there certainly are physical systems where one variable is likely to be enough to describe them well enough for your purposes. A dropped ball in a vacuum hits the ground with what force? The initial height, one variable, is pretty much all you need. A planet’s orbital period can be gauged from the one variable, its orbital axis (through Kepler’s laws). The conservation of energy says that the initial energy of a system in isolation stays the same. Etc.
The climate properties we are interested in are not like these systems. Unless you show that they are. Which virtually none of the people using this argument have. Maybe this is unfair to expect of them, although I’m not sure why if they’re all going to posture as such Smart People on the side of Science all the time, but in any event they don’t get to just ignore or wish the problem away.
The climate is a humongously-many dimensional system. Yes maybe if CO2 goes up, the temperature goes up, because there’s a greenhouse effect. But maybe other stuff happens. Maybe all the extra energy just stirs up the oceans a barely-perceptible amount, which absorb it all like a flywheel. Maybe there are feedback, self-limiting or cycle effects, like when predators eat all their prey, thriving for a while, but then start starving when they can’t find any more prey, which therefore start increasing, etc. To really get a handle on any of this, you need a model. A real model, not the third-grade version. Well, climate science has its models. And I think they’re a load of crap.
You don’t? Why not? Have you looked at those models? (I have.)
This is the problem I have with the one-dimensional story. The one-dimensional story bypasses all these considerations that are really central to the issue. The one-dimensional story is for simpleminded one-dimensional people who don’t want to bother to dig into the real story but do want the benefits/power/honor they think will accrue to them in the telling of it; for people who don’t want to do the leg-work but do want to skip ahead to the part where they get to tell other people what to do: in other words, it’s tailor-made for Smart People.