Friday, August 03, 2007

A global warming exchange with a friend

This is a short exchange I had with an old friend about one of his opinions on global warming. I think it's a good exercise in how to critically assess a claim advanced by someone else on merely the grounds they themselves provide.

* * *

Hi, Jim. [Not his real name.]

With interest, I've read the articles you've sent me regarding your (new to me) idea that the global warming issue can be managed only if the poverty issue is managed.

Let me say, I'm a full believer in global warming. At this time, I also believe that human beings are causally significant contributors (perhaps even the sole and sufficient contributors) to global warming. But whether we are sufficient or just incidental contributors, it is a problem that we must solve.

Your own position introduces a particular way that humans are contributors to global warming -- to wit, that the vast number of people living under poverty conditions are the main cause of the global warming problem. I said I doubted this, but since it was a new idea, I asked you to send me scientifically reputable sources from where you got this idea. You then sent along two sources, which I’ve since read and upon which I shall now comment.

First, let me address this source:

  • Anthony Browne "You can be green and still love the poor" NewStatesman (Aug. 26, 2002).

  • Here is the key quote which is relevant to our difference of opinion:
    [....] The old theory was that, up to certain income levels, environmental degradation was just an inevitable part of development. Poor people pollute more because they have more urgent priorities than conservation; only the rich can afford to conserve parts of their land, and can afford the clean technologies that reduce pollution. But Barry Coates, director of the World Development Movement, insists this is just not true: "The new research is that bad environmental practice produces costs, whatever the stage of development." [....]
    Overall, this article reports green groups and aid groups want to cooperate, and quotes, as an aside, merely one guy, Barry Coates, of a particular aid group, as asserting that the old theory of economic development is false. Sorry, but there are two problems here.

    (1) This is merely a claim, and an anecdotal claim at that; and, one made by a person who is not a recognized scientific authority in global warming issues. So this is hardly convincing evidence that the global warming issues can be solved only if the poverty issue is addressed.

    (2) The article was from 2002, which is very early in the global warming debate. It is only recently that the consensus of scientifically informed people have agreed that the global warming is caused by us, and not by long-term cyclical trends in geo-weather patterns. Again, this is not a strong support for your position.

    Second, let me now address this other source:

  • “Factsheet” WWF South Pacific News

  • This is a global warming fact sheet, which claims, "Global warming threatens to reverse human progress, making the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for poverty reduction unachievable." Note that it does not claim that poverty causes global warming, only that the UN cannot meet its goals of reducing poverty if the trends of global warming continue. This is neither synonymous with nor entailed by your position: again, that the vast number of people living under poverty conditions are the main cause of the global warming problem. Note also that it is put out by an environmental advocacy group, and not a scientific organization. Nor is it a report about the results of a scientific organization. Yet scientific evidence is the kind I’d requested that you send along, but in both cases, sadly, you did not grant my request.

    Overall, it appears to me that you have an opinion, but one which I cannot share; since, the evidence for it seems (at this point, and on the basis of what you’ve sent) non-existent. Naturally, if you find any reports that convey scientific evidence in support of your view, I’d be happy to read them, since I’m genuinely concerned about global warming and its causes.

    Might I suggest that you carefully review this month’s (August) Scientific American Magazine article titled, “The Physical Science behind Climate Change” pp. 64-73. By giving attention to this article, you could read what peer-reviewed scientific experts say about global warming, and then form an evidence-based opinion about what you and I both acknowledge as one of the supreme issues of our time.


    [image] "Global Warming" The Augusta Chronicle (Accessed 8/3/2007)


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    At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Grue Hair Man said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    At 6:01 PM, Blogger brinticus said...

    I thinjk one of the most immediate issues of poor(er) nations is their access to water. Here is a good chart which summarizes this problem:


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