In his latest column, “Great Conservative Thinker” George Will claims that anyone who uses the term “climate change denier” to describe climate change deniers is being “disrespectful of science,” in addition to referring to the folks who defend climate change science as being “climate Cassandras.”
Will’s essay is basically a protracted argument, using two books (The Third Horsemen: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century and Global Crisis: War, Climate Change & Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century), claiming that there’s no empirical evidence for climate change. His verbose tirade is also about 700 words too long to get to the point: “humans can’t be changing the climate, because the climate is always changing.”
Now, without a doubt, Will’s iteration is a classic denier red herring and one of my favorite arguments to tear to pieces. Will says that “something about which everyone can agree is that of course the climate is changing — it always is.” He adds, “and if climate Cassandras are as conscientious as they claim to be about weighing evidence, how do they accommodate historical evidence of enormously consequential episodes of climate change not produced by human activity?”
“Climate Cassandra” — now, we’re talking the same Cassandra who, after she rebuffed Apollo’s advances, was given the power of prophecy with the catch that nobody would believe her, right? The same woman who — correctly, it must be stated — predicted the Fall of Troy, when everyone was scoffing and mocking her?
Wow. Being that clueless must be hard work.
Will’s essay never quite recovers from that, but he continues anyway, going into the gruesome details about the societal collapse at the end of the Medieval Warm Period. He notes that “Human behavior did not cause this climate change” and that “Instead, climate warming caused behavioral change (10 million mouths to feed became 30 million). Then climate cooling caused social changes (rebelliousness and bellicosity) that amplified the consequences of climate, a pattern repeated four centuries later”
He then moves onto to discuss the Little Ice Age, basically building a case for the concerted effort to stop global warming by describing all the famine and horrors that the climate change triggered. Finally, Will concludes by saying that:
By documenting the appalling consequences of two climate changes, Rosen and Parker validate wariness about behaviors that might cause changes. The last twelve of Parker’s 712 pages of text deliver a scalding exhortation to be alarmed about what he considers preventable global warming. Neither book, however, supports those who believe human behavior is the sovereign or even primary disrupter of climate normality, whatever that might be.
So, let’s take a look at this.
George Will said: “The climate has always been changing. Ergo, humans are having no effect on the current round of climate changing.”
And? So what? Just because the climate has always been changing, that means humans can’t affect it? CO2 is a heavy gas; it traps heat like a blanket, and if you want to deny that this is the case, go swan diving off a platform in Venus’ atmosphere and get back with me when you hit the bottom. A less conventional example is Saturn’s hydrocarbon-shrouded moon Titan, which is warmer than it should be because of the methane — another greenhouse gas — in the atmosphere. Titan has an anti-greenhouse effect in addition to a greenhouse effect, but this isn’t an atmospheric study of the moon; what matters is that Titan is a lot warmer than it should be, due to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Almost every major instance of climate change on Earth has been tied to CO2 levels; when CO2 is high, the climate is warmer.
Guess what humans have been producing millions of tons of since the early 1800s?
If anything, the books Will cited prove how fragile the climate is and how easily it’s unsettled. They also prove how important it is for us to try and stave off any adverse effects that we are causing, lest we suffer these horrifying conditions. So thank you, Mr. Will, for calling us Cassandras and confirming that we’re correct despite the criticism, and because you made a fine case against Big Oil, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and other for environmental measures like carbon caps.
Even though that wasn’t your intention.
Oh, and for the creative denier who wants to make the claim that CO2 doesn’t matter because the Mars atmosphere is mostly CO2 and it’s a cold world: I’d like to remind you that 1) Mars is further from the sun and gets less light and 2) Mars has a third the gravity and an extremely weak magnetic field, so there’s very little atmosphere there to begin with. We’re not quite dealing with Mercury’s atmosphere (i.e., whatever out-gasses from the Caloris Basin), but it’s close, and it’s nothing like the atmospheres of Earth or Venus.