Bill McKibben, a “distinguished scholar” (whatever that means) at Middlebury College in Vermont and apparently a high priest in the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming proposes that the God of his church is angry with humans, and is therefore causing all these recent calamities, including, not least, the Joplin tornado that killed 116 (or more, before the counting is done). He snarkily, sarcastically and angrily intoned that the connections between all these events should be ignored because it just couldn’t be global warming that is causing them. His column, running in the Washington Post, is so offensive; such an insult to people who choose thinking over believing, that it needs to be taken apart, paragraph by paragraph, so here goes:
Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.
Is Joplin’s tornado related to the previous outbreak? Of course it is, if we believe that cause and effect relationships determine events in the universe, i.e., if we don’t believe that some supernatural influence intervenes to cook up conditions as it sees fit. Tornadoes are nature’s heat exchangers (much like their bigger, but less intensively-concentrated cousins, hurricanes). With rather drastic speed and efficiency, they modulate temperature differences across colliding air masses. Given that tornadoes only form when air masses of varying temperatures (one relatively cold, and one relatively warm) collide, it would stand to reason that the same overall temperature differential between air masses that caused the Alabama tornadic activity might, a few weeks later, shift to another locale, which would likely be north and west of Alabama as warm air coverage expands with the lengthening days and strengthening sun of late spring. Indeed, not only are the two outbreaks related in cause and effect because all things in the universe necessarily are, they are related in a way that actually might be discernible, even with the limited information and obscured perspectives with which humans can observe and understand such events.
It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected.
Cute sarcasm, but like I said before, all things in the universe are necessarily related. And even if the wildfires in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico are more extensive than any at this time of year in recorded history, the history, sketchy as it was before satellites and aerial surveys, goes back all of maybe a century, or barely more than a man’s lifetime.
Strains of Romanticism pervade the anthropogenic global warming movement. The Romantic ideal was that emotions carry validity depending on how deeply they are felt, and no human emotion is more deeply felt than that the age in which one lives is the most important age that ever was or will be. It takes feeling so deeply that any hope for objective truth is extinguished to believe that wildfires or droughts in this age are any more or less severe as they were even a couple of hundred years ago.
If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.
See how conveniently amorphous is the God of the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming? He causes both drying and flooding of the planet. He has become, in many respects, Yahweh of the Hebrew Old Testament, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, but nonetheless intimately concerned with human welfare, punishing humans with floods and droughts as they displease him, or whenever he likes, on his own whim.
Precipitation and the storms that often accompany it, is not caused by warm or cool air, but by warm air, heavily laden with moisture, being cooled to its dew point or below. In other words, if the atmosphere were of uniformly warm or cold temperatures, there would be far less, if any, precipitation. All we can conclude when there is an outbreak of severe weather or floods is that there must be some relative increase in the temperature differential or the frequency and intensity of warm and cool colliding air masses, but only for the area in which they occur.
Incidentally, the flooding along the Mississippi has not set any records (that also only go back about a hundred years). Both the 1927 and 1937 floods were more extensive and damaging, particularly the flood in 1927. The river reached Monroe, Louisiana, eighty miles away, in 1927. Now, imagine how the people of the lower Mississippi must have felt back then, being hit with two record floods in the span of just ten years. Interestingly, there’s no evidence they worshipped or prayed at the altar of Anthropogenic Global Warming, so probably just attributed the flooding to the unpredictability of nature’s ebbs and flows. And we think we’re so much smarter than our ancestors.
It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods — that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these record-breaking events are happening in such proximity — that is, why there have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. No, better to focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the news anchorman standing in his waders in the rising river as the water approaches his chest.
It’s not exactly clear how watching the events unfold as they have impairs worshipping at the altar of the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming, but watching television to stay abreast of these human tragedies seems impious to Mr. McKibben. His claim that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years is demonstrably false, as this article from those global warming heretics at the British Broadcasting Company makes clear. And keep in mind “thousands of years”, even were it true, is the blink of an eye in geologic time.
Mr. McKibben is upset at people who pay attention to mass media, but his argument that all these events are happening in such proximity depends on it, which is another reason to doubt that there’s anything special about them. We are now able to know instantaneously of all calamities everywhere, which would certainly seem to multiply them according to our perceptions.
Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year drought in the past five years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the past decade — well, you might have to ask other questions. Such as: Should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal mining? Should Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign a permit this summer allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta? You might also have to ask yourself: Do we have a bigger problem than $4-a-gallon gasoline?
There is nothing to imagine there might be a relationship between pine beetles and global warming, but it mustn’t be forgotten, the God of the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming is all-powerful and is, like Yahweh, a vengeful and unpredictable god. Maybe he just doesn’t like granola heads. And really, by what measurement can we conclude anything about the last hundred years of the Amazon? Nobody except a few hardy tribesmen live in the Amazon River basin even now.
Ah, but now we get clarity. The Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming passes the offering plate, seeking donations in the form of adopting political policies it favors. But unlike medieval days, the state is still more powerful than the AGW Church, so politicians can ignore the catechism of its theology without too much risk.
Better to join with the U.S. House of Representatives, which voted 240 to 184 this spring to defeat a resolution saying simply that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” Propose your own physics; ignore physics altogether. Just don’t start asking yourself whether there might be some relation among last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heat wave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France’s and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields. Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.
Indeed, the record food prices are freak outliers, having virtually nothing to do with the supply and demand metrics for agricultural products, and everything to do with the Federal Reserve’s printing presses. As the contemplation of, not the end of global warming, but the end of the Fed’s money-printing regime drew near, agricultural prices began falling, even in the face of all these calamitous events the world over.
It’s very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies. If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent filing: that there’s no need to worry because “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” I’m pretty sure that’s what residents are telling themselves in Joplin today.
What a cheap shot. Survivors in Joplin have had their lives turned completely upside down in an event whose ultimate cause is infinitely unknowable, and McKibben pulls a Jerry Falwell, basically claiming that the reason their lives were destroyed is because they have incurred the wrath of his God.
And really, Mr. McKibben, what is wrong with the idea that people can acclimatize and adjust? People acclimatized and adjusted in the massive warming of about 15,000 years ago that ended the last ice age else there wouldn’t be 7 billion or so of them around today. There is no way to know how long this warming period might last, but it is certainly true that adjusting to a warming climate would be several factors easier for humans to do than adjusting to a renewed ice age.
The fact is, the earth’s climate is always in flux, impacted by a nearly infinite number of variables. It is the essence of hubris to imagine that we are causing it now to change. It is the essence of stupidity to imagine there is anything we can do to alter its future trajectory. And it is the essence of bad taste to use a human tragedy such as happened in Joplin to try to bolster what amounts to a religious argument.
More than once I have explained that dependence on oil for the continuation of a lifestyle that is not sustainable is foolhardy. But not because some imagined deity will wreak havoc on innocent people if we continue to do so. It is foolish because it is not feasible, and understanding as much does not require accepting the catechism of the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming, an exercise in faith nearly as pure as that which convinced men to believe the sun revolved around the earth.