Monday, June 26, 2006

St. Paul, MN and back again...

My friend Eric and I ran into some incredible T-storms just past Chicago last weekend, coming back from the 25th annual Chesterton conference in St. Paul, MN. As you can see, it was quite a spectacle as we approached the majestic clouds, warmly illuminated by the setting sun behind us. Unfortunately, we didn't get any real clear pictures of what at times may very well have been the largest and most vivid rainbow I've ever seen in my life. I won't forget it myself though.

In this newest photo album then, you can find more of those pictures, as well as some shots of the impressive and inspiring Cathedral of Saint Paul. We attended Mass there on Sunday morning before beginning the long and grueling drive home (12 hours baby!).

p.s. The conference itself was excellent -- plenty of laughs, wine, beer, stories, talks, poetry (especially Clerihews!), intellectual ponderings, entertainment, and cheap used book sales -- though I probably won't be saying much more about it on the blog here.

[Note: The lightning picture on the side bar is not mine. In fact, since I began this blog, none of those side bar pictures have been mine. I apologize for not being able to give credit to whomever it is due.]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Global Warming...My Recent Thoughts

[Note: This was originally posted April 2nd, but taken down because I wanted to think about what I'd said more. Since my friend Justin recently started talking about Al Gore and global warming though, I thought I might as well put it back up.]

After an extremely mild winter, and in light of the approaching summer heat, along with this discouraging news story, I thought (of all things) that it’d be a good time to clarify where I currently stand on the whole "global warming" issue. Longtime readers may recall my old essay from 2004 raising questions about the "hockey stick" reading of the climate changes over the past 1,000 years. I should note that my raising questions was not out of some malice for the environment, but because I sincerely had questions about the issue, which seemed to me a very confusing one.

Two years later, I still find the subject confusing, though there have been some developments. The questions raised by Soon and Baliunas regarding Mann’s “hockey stick” interpretation have received a fair dose of criticisms themselves. Additionally, Baliunas involvement with numerous organizations that receive funding from petroleum companies, while not necessarily disproving her research, nonetheless raises more questions.

As for the other studies I cited that seem to give doubt to the "hockey stick" reading, I've had a more difficult time finding responses. Additionally, it must be remembered that this "paleoclimate" evidence is only one type; there are other studies (such as the correlations between released gases and rising temperatures) that also need to be considered.

The best I can tell right now though, is that the rising temperatures are very likely a mix of both natural causes and human activity. What I can't say with any level of certainty is the degree to which each has had an influence upon climate changes. The bottom line, as far as I can tell then, is that whereas it is clear that temperatures have been rising of late, we still don't have that clear of evidence as to the precise impact man is having in all of it. I think I'm being quite fair in saying this, for the more recent McIntyre and McKitrick criticisms of Mann's work seem to be even more warranted than the previous ones I'd cited in the past.

[Note: For those interested in reading more than Wikipedia summaries, check out the blogs where both sides are publishing a lot of their thoughts, as well as summaries of recent studies: Real Climate: Climate Science from Climate Scientists (a blog that Mann contributes to, amongst others), and Climate Audit (McIntyre's blog).]

I admit though, that I am no expert in this field, and assuredly have not read nearly enough. Such an admission could be grounds for both sides of the issue to discredit me (and I don't place McIntyre or McKitrick on either side necessarily): those with less concern about the environment might argue that I haven't considered enough evidence and thus shouldn't blame human activity, whereas the more environmentally-minded might also say I haven't studied enough, but conclude instead that I need to recognize the negative human impact more than I do.

Personally, I think what I'll say shortly will discount both of those positions. Before I get into that though, let's also not forget the nature of science (Justin, please correct me if I'm wrong here). Proving there to be serious problems in the methods of previous research (such as Mann's) only reveals negative evidence. It doesn't provide positive evidence one way or another in regards to what is actually causing global warming, or the extent to which present global warming is a problem. Thus, the question is merely opened up to debate and further research again. And that’s where I think we stand presently.

Additionally, however, I had a recent thought that I think anyone concerned about the environment should be emphasizing more often, especially when in dialogue with the real neo-cons and industrialists, those who seem to have little or no regard for the environment and use the criticism of studies like Mann's to argue that there’s no reason to be concerned. Similar to the "agnostic quadrilemma" point that I believe to be most important in dialoguing with those who support abortion, this time the dilemma is one of environmental negligence.

Basically, even if one were to argue that the warming trends are not threatening, nor caused by humans, unless one can prove with complete certainty that this is entirely due to natural causes, then I think everyone ought to be playing on the safe side, and working at least in some way (the amount would of course be debatable) for further funding, research and development towards trying to better understand and deal with the "possible" climate problem. To completely shrug it off as nonsense, as I think many conservatives do, seems completely irresponsible to me, especially considering the fact that there is so much scientific evidence suggesting a real warming problem, as well as a human connection. Though there may still be questions and points to debate, considering what might happen if indeed we humans are the primary cause (or even just a partial cause), shouldn't we be at least be taking some precautions? Does it not seem negligent to simply continue to live without any concern over the matter? Now, I do understand the complaint of some that science has been wrong in the past (take the horrid example of eugenics from the early 20th century), but what doesn't make sense to me is how giving the "global warming threat" claim real consideration will in any way seriously hurt humanity, even if it were some day proven to be untrue.

And so, my present thought is that while much remains unclear in the global warming debate, we nevertheless ought to act under the assumption that we are a part of the problem, consequently doing what we can to try and be more environmentally conscious and protective (and I realize here that the issue of global warming is only one aspect of environmental problems). Even if one is skeptical of the warming trend as a serious threat, one still ought to assume it to be true, unless one could prove it most definitely not to be the case. This may not sound like a revolutionary thought, but I think it is a simple point that could be made, yet probably isn't made enough.

Ironically, in doing a little research before writing this post, I was surprised to come across a recent statement from (of all people) President Bush expressing similar sentiments: "We -- first of all, there is -- the globe is warming. The fundamental debate: Is it manmade or natural. Put that aside." He went on then to point out all on his agenda that he's doing to try and help better the environment. Despite the strange choice of words (the "globe"?), I think he's actually getting to the point I made above as well. Hopefully his administration will really make the right decisions now in carrying out those promises. Only time, and our "globe," will tell.

Well, there you have it -- my thoughts on global warming. Please let me know if you think it makes any sense (or no sense at all!). This is actually a fairly recent idea that came after trying to really think out the issue and the best way for me to respond in light of the present circumstances and what little I know from my limited perspective. Even now, as I think about it more, this probably wouldn't be enough for a complete account (for example, it doesn't seem as strong as the abortion "quadrilemma" point), but I do think it seems like a good starting place.

St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, pray for us!