Global Warming and the Death of the Long View

It’s the sad fact of our culture today that no one likes the long view.

The long view is a bad sound bite. The long view doesn’t inspire anger or passion. Putting issues into proper perspective, which generally has the effect of lessening the sting of setbacks and numbing the exhilaration of victory, is, for today’s media consumer, boring.

Long-view pundits are few, and few make it to television or radio airwaves. Their usefulness in the 24-hour news cycle is minimal at best, especially when the politics of outrage have become the go-to tool to ramrod large-scale policy or lifestyle change.

Take global warming. We’re supposed to be up in an lather about it, as we were supposed to be with acid rain, toxic smog, the hole in the ozone and a million other environmental disasters that have variously threatened to wipe us off the earth. Never mind more people die from heart disease and cancer than almost all other causes of death combined (National Vital Statistics Report, Jan. 2012). No need to feel outrage about that, because we love our fat-filled diets, sedentary lifestyles and carcinogens.

No, let’s shake our fists at the real enemy – man and his destructive impact on poor Mother Nature. Never mind that she’s survived worse than us long before we can around and will continue to do so long after we’re gone. She must be saved, we are lectured, from us and our evil, consuming ways. The problem is that even is we all agree it’s a good idea to consume less and use commodities more efficiently, that’s not enough for those who insist on regulating industrial production on a massive scale, regardless of how it may impact the market factors that create millions of jobs worldwide, jobs they have neither a clue how to replace nor an interest in doing so.

With global warming, the facts aren’t in or even close to being in when it comes to identifying precise causes and anticipating specific effects. What’s worse, facts that don’t fit proponents’ hypotheses are too often simply ignored, dismissed or glossed over – which is the exact opposite of the rigorous application of the scientific method such people claim to hold sacred.

Point in fact – just last week, this story about polar ice came across the wires:

London – Ice around the South Pole has expanded to cover a record area, scientists revealed on Thursday – a month after saying that the North Pole had lost an unprecedented amount of its ice. Researchers say – rather confusingly – that both occurrences are down to the ‘complex and surprising’ effects of global warming.

The record Antarctic sea ice cover was revealed in satellite images from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. At the end of the southern winter in September, ice covered 7.51million square miles of sea – more than at any time since records began in 1979.

For the last 30 years the amount of Antarctic sea ice has been increasing by 1 percent each decade. While the rest of the world has been getting warmer over the last 50 years, large parts of the Eastern Antarctic have been getting cooler. Scientists say a cooler Antarctic fits in with the unpredictable nature of climate change.

Ted Scambos, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, said: ‘It sounds counterintuitive, but the Antarctic is part of the warming as well.’

Ted Maksym, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, added: ‘A warming world can have complex and sometimes surprising consequences.’

And there you have it. The best science available admits global warming and its repercussions – repercussions almost universally described as evil for everyone and potentially fatal for many – can be characterized as “complex and surprising.”

The long view says short-term surprises and complexities even out, and in fact, one can only be surprised if one did not see something coming, did not admit its possibility beforehand.

This article also exposes the greatest flaw in the entire rhetoric surrounding the global warming debate – it assumes we know that which we do not, that which we technically cannot because we don’t have a complete understanding of planetary weather. Heck, we can only really accurately predict local weather out for five days, max (spoiler alert: 10-day forecasts and up are an invention of television stations done for ratings; any reputable meteorologist will tell you privately they’re just best guesses).

There’s simply too much to know, too much to measure and too much we don’t yet understand about the variable cycles of the earth, how the planet’s tilt in its axis affects temperature or even what precise factors were responsible for the earth’s many mass extinctions – things I’m a lot more curious about than the behavior of toads in boiling water (and you’ll forgive my pointing out that in nature, over millions of years, only recently have toads found themselves in pots on stoves in rapidly boiling water. I’m guessing that didn’t happen much before we came along, and I’m willing to give them a few adaptations or so to adjust accordingly).

But that’s taking the long view. Hyperbole, exaggeration and outrage are more fun, more newsworthy, more likely to attract viewers, readers, listeners and clicks. Sadly for us, it’s the truth, not to mention good, fair science, that ultimately pays the price.