If an idea’s proponents’ grasping at ever more implausible straws is an indication of how badly that idea is faring in the court of public opinion, it seems that global warming alarmism is not doing so well. Set aside the predictable, feeble speculations about the existence or severity of Hurricane Irene being due to global warming. I have seen, in about one week’s time, three more examples of how desperate the global warming alarmists are becoming.
First, we’re told that, according to a paper recently published by the Climate Institute in Australia, “loss of social cohesion in the wake of severe weather events related to climate change could be linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.” So, even though there is skepticism about whether global warming — or, as it is euphemistically called, “climate change” — is a real phenomenon and, on top of that, skepticism about whether global warming causes weather events of increasing severity, the authors of this paper try to further their environmentalist agenda by means of an additional layer of speculation: the hypothesis that increasing rates of mental illness in Australia are due to the increasing frequency of severe weather events.
Second, Al Gore argues that those who are now skeptical about global warming are the moral equivalent of those who, in earlier generations, were racists. “I think it’s the same where the moral component is concerned,” he said. Gore seems to be forgetting that it is the racists and the global warming alarmists — not the global warming skeptics — who must bear the onus of proof. Both the racists and the global warming alarmists are arguing for the existence of something: in the case of the racists, a connection between skin color and a characteristic that would justify discrimination; in the case of the global warming alarmists, both the existence of the phenomenon itself and its connection to human activity. Because Gore seeks to avoid addressing the merits of the skeptics’ position altogether, and instead assumes his audience will join him in smearing them by associating them with racists, this is a classic example of what Ayn Rand called “the argument from intimidation.”
Finally there’s this story, in which we are told that a NASA-linked scientist co-wrote an academic paper speculating that, were we to come into contact with an alien species, the (obviously superior) aliens might feel compelled to wipe us out due to our (obviously) suicidal and dangerous overconsumption of fossil fuels. Yes, it was just an academic paper, and being linked to NASA in some capacity does not mean that one cannot speak his mind. Nor does it mean that NASA endorses the views expressed in the paper. Still, I find it disturbing that someone who has worked with NASA spends time and energy considering the arbitrary. The existence of any sentient alien species is arbitrary, as there is no evidence (that I know of) in support of it. Further speculation about what such an alien species might think or do about us and our consumption of fossil fuels is something I will call “arbitrary squared”. Scary.
This last story is even more interesting because what these scientists have done, in effect, is use an arbitrary fantasy about aliens in order to resurrect the old, discredited Malthusian idea that the growth of civilization will be our downfall. According to the Guardian U.K., the argument in the paper was that overconsumption of fossil fuels, and the concomitant change in atmospheric composition, would alert alien life forms that our civilization is in a rapid growth phase. This rapid growth, they say, could be perceived by the aliens as a threat. The solution is, of course, to curb the rate of growth of our civilization. (Well, unless you’re Paul Krugman.) Same conclusion reached by Thomas Malthus, but with an even less plausible — in fact totally arbitrary — argument for it. Malthus’s original predictions haven’t come true; the fact that you are reading this blog post refutes them. But what these scientists have done is make the same argument in the context of an arbitrary story, with the result that no one can refute it. True, we can’t refute it. But we can refuse to consider it, and we can judge those who expect us to do so.
I wonder what they’ll come up with next.