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If Darth Vadar Were a Climate Change Denier…

June 7, 2011

…he’d say, “Behold the incomprehesnible power of this fully-operational planet!”

Well, no, he wouldn’t.  H’e d just hang out and breathe car exhaust and giggle a lot while left-leaners trashed him on the Internet.  But anyway, I just wanted to make a point that this planet is a lot more complex than most people think, and that you can present data in all sorts of interesting ways without actually telling people anything.

So first, the complexity (from the Reg):

Previous studies on the world’s forests have tended to focus solely on forest area, often measured by satellite, but according to the US and European researchers compiling the report this misses out on the fact that in many cases more tree mass is appearing as forests get denser, with taller trees and more of them.

For example, according to US Forest Service figures, US timberland grew by only 1 per cent over the period 1953 to 2007. But this figure doesn’t reflect the true story: the volume of growing stock increased by 51 per cent, and overall national forest density was well up.

I should comment that this drastically increases the risk of forest fires, or at lesat catastrophic ones.  A much denser forest limits the ability of natural fire-breaks as well as increases the risk of crown fires, and it completely changes the water table in the area.  All of these things, of course, are complex factors that make environmentalism difficult to understand.

So if this type of study is used to say that we should increase National Forest area, limit access to the forests, and heavily manage the growth, then you’ll get about a ten year lag before we have a 10M acre fire that can be seen from Mars.  Just sayin’.

But to my other point, here’s how you can use data for good and for bad in one fell swoop.  One side can show how the general area of forest land is shrinking, while another can point out how actual tree density is growing.  Which is better?  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  It’s neither, it’s a thing.  Data is only powerful when you can act on it, rather than when you can talk about it.

So you can go hug a new, dense tree.  Or you can go cut it down and clear out the underbrush to keep fires down.  Or you can just live in a city and complain about carbon emissions.  I don’t think the data, without action, is going to actually change your mind.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Rod MacDow permalink
    June 7, 2011 8:07 pm

    @Jim: You’re right, of course – just a guess, but I’d bet a beer that the climate change industry is bigger than the denier industry. And both play into the willing ears of their respective believers. As much as I tried to be even-handed as you, I couldn’t pull it off. Although I keep track of both sides, I’ve made a judgment that the weight of evidence is on climate change. The science behind it, although not certain, is vast. And the deniers’ argument seems to be centered on three arguments: We don’t know everything, therefore we should wait; the climate freaks are conspiring to sell us a pack of lies; the weather today is nice and cool, so it can’t be true. Just one vote, but I think the current science wins.

    @Lynn: Yep – we’re wired to find and believe in patterns, even when they don’t have any causal relationship. Flowers on the altar worked last year, so it must be true. Re starvation, I take your point. It’s true that climate change isn’t the only issue, and we have lots of other things to solve.

    • June 7, 2011 10:44 pm

      And I don’t think that any of us are “denying” that there’s an issue, pal. I think we’re mostly asking if the data that’s in front of us is all the data.

      Let’s do the right things, but let’s do it with data.

  2. Rod MacDow permalink
    June 7, 2011 11:54 am

    Agree. Some thoughts:

    The human mind is built to prefer things it agrees with – “confirmation bias.” Most people learn to work with it and develop ways of seeing through that bias before making a judgment. But at its extremes, paranoia and denial take over. 30 years of data shows that the planet is warmer and the trend is accelerating. One one side, some scientists are totally convinced that man is the culprit, even though the data isn’t clear. On the other side, climate deniers seem to be totally convinced that this is just a scheme for liberal socialists to take control. On either extreme, data to the contrary are no longer relevant.

    On the denial side, it’s gone further. There’s a thriving denial industry. That means people are making a living by pooh-poohing climate data. Follow the money and it’s not hard to discover who’s funding it: People and companies who profit by keeping the status quo.

    The Economist has recently proposed that we’re entering the Anthropocene Period, meaning that human activities are on a scale at which the entire earth is affected in significant ways. Perhaps we’ll master terraforming (a la sci-fi) and create just the lovely little planet we want, but there’s a lot of evidence that many people will suffer while we learn. Funny how none of the deniers are in places where most of that suffering will occur.

    In any case, the planet is entirely neutral to left/right politics and the confirmation bias of its inhabitants. Based on what we do, not what we believe, it will react. We don’t know beyond an educated guess if that reaction will be in our favor or not, but based on available science, our best guess is that it won’t.

    Poking the tiger because you’ve decided to deny its teeth is, IMHO, is an astonishingly immature idea, and ill advised.

    • June 7, 2011 3:15 pm

      Well, there’s an equally thriving Climate Change industry. I’m not saying that either is correct, though I can (and did) say that either side has data on its side.

      I guess the key is whether the tiger is hungry or stuffed… who’s placing bets, and what’s the cost?

    • June 7, 2011 3:25 pm

      I just find it amusing how we know non-human realted cataclysmic impact happens with no human say – we’re really a blip on the world when considering events that have nothing to do with “weather” (volcanos erupt because of fossil fuel use? Meteors hit the earth because pre-historic man figures out fire? seriously guys)

      what was the joke – lies, damn lies & Statistics? If the models were great and accurate, where are the predictions come true from 20 years ago?

      I think Jim’s point is not about data, models (that don’t seem to be able to predict much very accurately..but I digress). I think it’srelated to the non linear passon & emotion.

      I think humans desire to have a risk free universe that we control & so we align every effect with a known cause that we can manage and control. Not unlike ancient pagan man who put flowers on the altar of the god most likely to be annoyed or smile upon them…we might not now acknowledge that the humanists worship at the alter of “Fate”. but they sure do try to manage it similarly 🙂

      BTW – the NY Times talks about “feeding the planet, damaging the earth” – starvation is suffering too 🙂

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