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Analyzing the Climate Change Debate

Sam Taylor

Posted on September 22, 2020 02:26

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The horrific wildfires gripping the West Coast have induced renewed debate over the consequences and severity of climate change. But unfortunately, the evidence concerning such matters remains variable and imprecise.

Across the West Coast, a pervasive array of wildfires have decimated over 5-million acres, upon which thousands of homes once stood. But the shocking ruination of natural disaster isn't the only effect born from such fires: mainstream debate over the extremity of climate change, a potential source of 2020's infernos, has been reinvigorated — and bears all the same, recurring attributes as most contemporary disputes on the subject.

Some see climate change as the fundamental genesis of the West Coast's current fires. As bioclimatologist Park Williams asserts, "This climate-change connection is straightforward: [w]armer temperatures dry out fuels. In areas with abundant and very dry fuels, all you need is a spark." Others perceive state-policy, not artificial temperature change, as the principal source of the fires. Fire ecologist Jon Keeley, though not denying the reality of climate change, argues that California's general refusal to permit controlled fires has cultivated an abundance of dry, dead vegetation creating an environment prone to exceptionally expansive wildfires — and that this is the basic source of the state's horrific predicament.

The sentiments expressed by Williams and Keeley encapsulate the current nature of the climate change debate: an altercation (generally) void of climate denialism, though permeated by differing conceptions of climate change's effects and severity.

Intrinsic to most arguments in the climate change debate is the use of cost-benefit analysis. Numerous studies and economic reviews have endeavored to quantify the ramifications of human-induced global warming and its potential solutions, and thereby prescribe government policy. Unfortunately, these multitudinous analyses have reached strikingly imprecise conclusions. For example, the Fourth National Climate Assessment estimates the cost of climate change to be between 0.5% and 6.0% marginal GDP loss over the next century — or, in layman's terms, some cost within a very broad range of costs. Moreover, studies that attempt to determine the value of climate change solutions are similarly variable.

In conclusion, the numerical consequences of climate change are simply unknown; but that hasn't hindered vehement declarations of indubitable, climatic calamity (common among liberals and environmentalists), nor resolute provocations that climate change solutions don't outweigh their costs (common among conservatives and libertarians). The climate change debate is wrought with obstinate adherence to political ideology, as opposed to honest reconciliation with fact: we don't know the precise, measurable benefits or drawbacks of mitigating climate change.

None of this is to insinuate that global warming, rising sea levels, ecological destruction and wildfires aren't incontrovertibly undesirable — of course, venturing to prevent such disasters should be a high priority of national policy. But to claim that these preventions are irrevocably justified (or unjustified) by the known repercussions of climate change is nothing short of an asininity.

Sam Taylor

Posted on September 22, 2020 02:26

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Source: WashPost
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An amazing picture from Air Force One of tiny Kivalina speaks volumes about climate change vulnerability.

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