Saturday, January 20, 2007

Stossel: Idiot

Mike seems to think that this statement by John Stossel constitutes "common sense":

"Melting Arctic ice won’t raise sea levels any more than the melting ice in your drink would make your glass overflow."

This pleasant little canard has been floating around the anti-environmentalist crowd for years; I first heard it from Rush Limbaugh well over a decade ago. It was stupid from his mouth, and it's stupid from Stossel's.

First of all, note that Stossel seems to think that the only ice anyone's concerned with is the Arctic ice. He doesn't mention the Antartic ice caps, which a simple look at a damn globe will establish as being located on land. Also note that much of the ice in the Arctic region, defined as that area north of the Arctic circle, is also on land: the greater part of Greenland, giant swaths of Canadian and Alaskan and Russian real estate, and so on. And it's not just the rising sea levels that are a problem with melting ice caps; the release of enormous amounts of fresh water into the North Atlantic could well disrupt the Gulf Stream.

Upon actually clicking through to Stossel's article, I find a typical hodgepodge in which Stossel has clearly cherry-picked whatever contrarian scientists he can find in hopes of bolstering his anti-warming stance, glomming onto anything that sounds good ("Greenland's ice sheet is thickening!" is a common one, although it's far from clear as to what this means and its implications for overall global warming), and displaying a surprising lack of knowledge about what he's talking about ("Kyoto would only affect temperatures by a tenth of a degree!", Stossel breathlessly writes, apparently not realizing that when talking about global temperatures, variations as small as tenths of degrees actually are significant; it's not like one's living room going from 72 degree to 72.1 degrees).

Of course, what's really bugging Stossel isn't warming at all; it's all part of his libertarian ethos, as encapsulated in his last sentence: "And the politicians would have one less excuse to take control of our lives." There's what it all boils down to. Stossel doesn't have a genuine clue about whether global warming or climate change constitute serious science or not; his problem is that if global warming is happening (and yes, the majority of climate scientists say that it is), then he also knows that it's simply not a problem that the function of The Free Market will solve on its own. Let's not be coy about this, OK? There is nothing in human history that suggests that in the absence of environmental regulation, the market response to pollution won't be, as it has time and time again in the past, "Go ahead and piss in the pool; someone else will clean it up later."

As always, when faced with a genuine example of a problem that free markets are exceedingly and undeniably unlikely to solve, the libertarian gambit is to simply argue that the problem doesn't exist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not certain that 0.1 C change is significant. Certainly, I'm no climateologist, but if you asked me what the average temp of the earth is, I'd give an answer like 15 +/- 0.2. (See here I am assuming it can't be much more because Nasa is reporting anomalies on the order of 0.5 degrees (here

Statistically, you really can't tell between 15 and 15.1 when your uncertainty is 0.2 They are the same measurement.