A Philosopher's Blog

Global Warming Denial

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Science by Michael LaBossiere on May 3, 2007

No, I’m not denying global warming. Ecomaniacs can put away their rage and the oil folks can put away their checkbooks. 🙂

I happened to see a segment on CNN about scientists who dispute the received view about global warming. In the segment claims were made that people who do this are persecuted in various ways, such as being fired.

While there is strong inductive evidence that human activity is a causal factor in global warming, there are still some grounds for doubt. After all, scientific reasoning of this sort is inductive causal reasoning and a hallmark of inductive reasoning is that the evidence gives the conclusion only a probability of being true. In short, in inductive reasoning you can always be wrong despite the best evidence and most careful reasoning. This occurs because inductive reasoning involves making that inductive leap beyond the evidence.

In the case of caual reasoning, as David Hume pointed out, we make an inference based on past connections and infer that X causes Y because of a proper correlation between X and Y. But, we can always turn out to be wrong because (as Hume argued) we never actually see a necessary connection or causal power.

So, from a logical standpoint, it is not irrational to be suspicious of the claims about global warming. All the claims put forth as evidence could be true, yet the conclusion about humanity’s role could be false.

Of course, the mere possibility of such a result does not provide good grounds for rejecting a claim-after all, if we accepted this approach we would have to doubt everything (such as whether hot stoves burn fingers or whether drinking a glass of Draino would be a bad idea) and that would be, to say the least, a bit crazy. More rationally, we should accept or reject this claim based on the quality of the evidence and the reasoning. So far, both seem quite good.

However, dissenting view points should be given consideration if they are well reasoned and supported by evidence. After all, even a well-established claim or theory can be shown to be flawed (history is full of such examples). Further, scientists who dissent against the majority opinion should not be persecuted. Science and philosophy are well served by those who dissent and doubt. At the very least, they force the majority to defend the accepted views and help keep the majority from becoming intellectually lazy or sloppy. This is not to say that any opinion is as good as any other-this is most definitely not the case. Some opinions are quite wrong.

My own view is that humans have contributed to recent environmental changes. The evidence seems quite clear-we produce large scale environmental effects that intuitively seem capable of impacting the climate. Of course, I’m a philosopher and not a climatologist-so all I can do is assess the quality of the reasoning as an expert and the evidence as an informed amateur.

6 Responses

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  1. zerog said, on May 3, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    Your reasoning is fine and of course dissidents have been forwarding science. Yet, when global warming is the issue we must keep in mind that there are great riscs involved and great interests too. This makes the matter much more complicated than a scientific dispute like say correctness of string theory. (See for example http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,1875762,00.html)

    To me, there remains no doubt about either the cause of climate change or about the graveness of the situation. There is no serious data to support that it doesn’t happen or that humans are not responsible for it (assuming a statistical framework which, yes, it’s not a crystal clear cause and effect model but it’s how these sciences work).

    Problem is what to do about it.

    My references:

    thanks for letting me comment on this.

  2. mlabossi said, on May 3, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    Excellent point. If the global warming hypothesis is false, we still would get a lot of good out of taking most of the same steps to combat it. If it is true, then by not combating it we’d be in a great deal of trouble.

  3. zerog said, on May 4, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Indeed 🙂
    Like they say, “danger” in chinese also means opportunity.

  4. greenfyre said, on December 14, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    “However, dissenting view points should be given consideration if they are well reasoned and supported by evidence. ”

    As well they should, and are. To see honest skepticism at work check the comment threads at places like http://realclimate.org/, http://bravenewclimate.com/, and http://tamino.wordpress.com/ (the scientific literature would be an even better place, but somewhat inaccessible for this purpose).

    The CNN segment you saw (and most of the publicity about Deniers) refers to a tiny handful of cranks http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2008/12/11/mene-mene-tekel-u-pharsin-verse-1/, many of whom are industry shills http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/denier-vs-skeptic/#who , who’s “science” is bogus claptrap http://www.realclimate.org/wiki/index.php?title=RC_Wiki#Alphabetically_.28by_author.29

    Should they be taken seriously?

  5. Michael LaBossiere said, on December 14, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    If a source is biased, then that gives good grounds for suspicion. So, those with strong ties to industries, ect. that have a stake in denying global warming would fall under suspicion. Also, claims that are improperly or otherwise inadequately supported should not be given much credence.

  6. magus71 said, on December 15, 2008 at 6:01 am

    Sorry Dr. LaBoossiere, didn’t mean for my battle to spill into your country….

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