The Wrath of God

A recent show I watched on the effects of human development on the environment reminded me of the time long long ago when I was a protestant Christian (it?s been nearly a decade since then). The show was interesting in spite of its obvious biases and I intend to have forthcoming critiques of the arguments presented. Some of the subtle biases of the show reminded me of a phenomenon I have been encountering quite a bit in the last few years, and the same phenomenon I encountered when I was deeply involved with a church and Christian peer group.

As Protestants, we believed that the ?end was coming?, the ?end? being the time when Jesus would return to earth and whisk us off into heaven (or something of that sort), followed by a period of seven years of plagues, famines, warfare, and the rise and rule of the anti-Christ. As for the order these events happen and what follows these events it tends to vary based on the traditions of your church. In any case, leading up to this time it was believed that God would unleash increasingly violent natural disasters upon mankind as punishment for it?s wickedness. The reason we believed the ?end was near? was due to two things:

1. The extreme level of moral decay and sin in modern society.
2. The ?obvious? increase in natural disasters that were occurring to mankind.

The reason it seemed like there was an obvious increase in natural disasters was not because there was. Indeed, there was not a statistical increase in natural disasters over previous centuries. It was because every time we heard about or experienced such an event it seemed to us as if it were far worse than the previous year. For example, hurricane Andrew hit in ?92 or ?93 I believe. As far as momentary damage goes it was one of the worst storms to ever hit North America due in no small part to the way it sat right on top of Florida for a long period of time. Thus hurricane Andrew was clearly the Wrath of God, and an indication that the ?end was near.?

So how did they determine if the storms were increasing in intensity? It was based on whether a storm is worse than any they remember. Thus, each disaster was seen as an indication of the increasing severity of natural disasters, the increasing moral decay of society, the increasing anger and wrath of God at man?s wickedness, and an indication that the ?end was upon us.?

So the Mississippi overruns its banks causing a massive flood: The end is near, a.k.a. ?Wrath of God?
6.7 Earth Quake in California: Wrath of God
Hurricane Hugo: Wrath of God
Typhoon in Japan: Wrath of God
Record number of tornados in Kansas: Wrath of God
Severe Blizzard in the Northeast: Wrath of God

The list goes on, each event adding more evidence, and increasing the belief that the end is in fact near. Not being among many of that particularly nutty brand of Christians anymore, I had not hear those sort of claims for quite a while, or so I thought until I realized the same thing was happening in mainstream Western culture.

It goes something like this:

It hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit in New York City this year: it must be Global warming.
The forest fires were particularly widespread this year as a result of Global warming.
The storms are increasing in frequency and intensity every year: Global warming.
It sure is hot out here: Global warming.
The northeast was hit by a blizzard: Global warming.
The ice caps melted a little this summer: Global warming.
It flooded in Las Vegas: Global warming.
There were a lot of hurricanes this year: Global warming.
We had a drought for the second year in a row: Global warming.
It?s been raining an awful lot this year it must be Global warming.

Global warming in all these contexts refers to the belief that human?s impact on the environment has caused and will cause temperatures to rise. This typically ends with some apocalyptic vision of the future (ironically). When I was in elementary school, the apocalyptic vision involved the whole earth turning into a massive desert due to the heat. Nowadays, there are multiple variations including the ?earth covered with tropical jungles,? ?earth covered by water,? and ?earth covered by ice? vision. Each new event is taken as additional evidence proving that the earth is getting warmer, and that humans have in fact caused ?global warming.? The problem is while the former claim may be true in some of these cases, the later claim is not proved nor supported by any of the events.

I remember reading numerous stories last year about the wildfires in California, and how scientists are taking the increased intensity of the fires as evidence of global warming. The problem is the increased intensity were not the result of global warming. In recent years, it has been discovered that there are fire-driven ecosystems. There are multiple species of tree that actually depend on forest fires to germinate. Thus the increased intensity of forest fires in the past year may well be a result of the many years spent suppressing, and preventing forest fires in ecosystems where fire is a natural part of the system.

In any case, I expect this year I will hear plenty more claims that ?It sure is hot out here thanks to all of those soccer moms and their damn SUVs.? The world is ending because of the wickedness of consumer culture. Damn sinners!

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...the apocalyptic vision

...the apocalyptic vision involved the whole earth turning into a massive dessert due to the heat...

Mmm, sweets....

The thing that gets me is,

The thing that gets me is, who cares if *current* supposed climactic tragedies are man's fault? The planet's history is one climactic tragedy after another - long before man came on the scene. So even if we managed to not leave any environmental footprint, eventually some bad shit is going to happen.

So if one were in an apocolyptic mood, wouldn't it be more productive to figure out how best to survive and maybe even thrive during an extreme climate change than to freak out about gas mileage?

Exactly. If you are faced

Exactly. If you are faced with a giant glacier hurtling at your house at the speed of a foot a day you're not going to be concerned about whose fault it is.

You're wrong.

You're wrong.

Rainbough- you draw an

Rainbough-
you draw an implicit analogy between religious "doom-sayers" and environmental ones, but I think you missed the point. The real flaw in the fundamentalists argument is that they conveniently find proof for what they already want to believe- if the world's gonna end, then Hurricanes are prrof. Not grasping this point (or not wanting to) has led you down the same path: because Libertarians have (or at least typically assume they have) a vested interest in opposing the existence of global warming (there are a variety of reasons for this) they then set out to disprove it.

Here's my mantra on Global Warming: The IPCC says human-made global warming is a fact, if you want to disagree with mainstream scientific opinion (the IPCC in this case) then you should learn the basic science, read the technical literature and write a report.

This is more or less analogous to the people who claim HIV doesn't cause AIDS. If you'll look you'll find that there is marginal scientific division over this fact. Well then do we just pick sides?

Matt, I think Rainbough gets

Matt,

I think Rainbough gets the point just right when she equates the moralism of the left-wing with the moralism of the right-wing.

You attack Rainbough's view that the left is moved by something equivalent to religious conviction then state that you have a mantra regarding this topic. If you were to check, you'd learn that mantras form the core of religions. That implies the only truth is "established truth" and it must be protected from doubt. If one rejects that, then one is a heretic and should be ostracised (or worse).

Science (rightly) is a method not a doctrine.

That global climate changes has been well-supported by geologic and paleontologic data that measure the past hundreds of millions of years.

The debate here is about apocalyptic visions and value judgments about human conduct not about whether there is any global climate change. Remember as recently as a generation ago people were convinced there was going to be apocalyptic global cooling.

The more things change. The more they stay the same.

Thanks Tim. It's always good

Thanks Tim. It's always good to know when I'm wrong. ;)

Matt: Since Rainbough was

Matt:

Since Rainbough was referring to my post, I'd like to respond as well.

As a Libertarian, I have no dog in the global warming fight. Frankly, I'd be surpised if humans DIDN'T have some impact or another on the environment, so why not global warming? I'm skeptical of the apocolyptic visions held by global warming fanatics, in part because the theme of their apocolypse is always changing.

But even giving them the benefit of the doubt - I mean, for all I know they could be right this time - I still say so what? If humans manage to learn how to avoid changing the environment one way or the other, it's not like we are ever going to achieve climactic stasis. Nor is there any evidence that climactic stasis is even desireable.

The eath has always changed and will continue to change. It will get hotter and colder, and eventually get sucked into the sun or blown apart by a huge asteroid or get blown up from within via a caldera.

Wouldn't that be a sad joke - humans eventually learn to live in harmony with mother earth (whatever that would mean), only to get blown up by something completely out of their control.

By the way, mantras belong in religion, not science.

Ommmm....

I think Rainbough gets the

I think Rainbough gets the point just right when she equates the moralism of the left-wing with the moralism of the right-wing.
sure, you can equate the moralism of the "libertarians" (Taxation is theft! College Grants are stolen from the unwilling!) with that of the right or left. Are we just saying that we can't make morally charged comments? C'mon, we're talking about content, don't try to pull a fast one.

If you were to check, you?d learn that mantras form the core of religions. That implies the only truth is ?established truth? and it must be protected from doubt. If one rejects that, then one is a heretic and should be ostracised (or worse).
I thought that it was obvious that I chose the word mantra as a joke for this very reason.

The debate here is about apocalyptic visions and value judgments about human conduct not about whether there is any global climate change. Remember as recently as a generation ago people were convinced there was going to be apocalyptic global cooling.
I don't understand your point here- if you wanna disagree that it exists then do so. It sounds like your argument is like "yeah it exists, but do we have to talk about it so much?" I mean, yeah I have cancer, but do we have to talk about treatment options and doomsday scenarios in which the cancer metastasizes to my brain? These doctors are just a bunch of apocalyptic wackos.

I?m skeptical of the apocolyptic visions held by global warming fanatics, in part because the theme of their apocolypse is always changing.
I'm certainly not advocating blindly accepting all claims. Since we're not talking about some specific projection it's hard to comment. I just can't imagine that you seriously mean this as an argument, because if you do, you'll find that you have alot in common with fundamentalists. If you are a Georgia resident (as I once was) then I''m sure you'll find no shortage of religious pamphlets that decry "man's hubris and folly" in trying establish science when we often get things wrong. Hell, evolution's just a theory after all, and science has been wrong before. I think I'll trust the lord jesus on this one.

But even giving them the benefit of the doubt - I mean, for all I know they could be right this time - I still say so what?
the scientists? What's the alternative, sitting in an armchair and deciding that they're not with no evidence?

If humans manage to learn how to avoid changing the environment one way or the other, it?s not like we are ever going to achieve climactic stasis. Nor is there any evidence that climactic stasis is even desireable.
well I believe carbon emmissions have been cited as a way for humans to stop affecting the environment to the same degree. I'm not Daniel Quinn here.

The eath has always changed and will continue to change. It will get hotter and colder, and eventually get sucked into the sun or blown apart by a huge asteroid or get blown up from within via a caldera.
quick, print that and give it to a geography professor- you might be able to get tenure based on that alone. Hotter and colder, everything in balance, then the apolalypse comes. ommmmmmmmmmm.

Matt: " if you want to

Matt:

" if you want to disagree with mainstream scientific opinion (the IPCC in this case) then you should learn the basic science, read the technical literature and write a report. "

There is a report, specifically regarding the Kyoto Protocol. It's called the Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg. And "mainstream" science treated him, well, not very scientifically. Check out http://www.greenspirit.com/lomborg/ . Basically, the scientific mainstream acted not unlike a certain catholic church we all know and er... love.

"What?s the alternative, sitting in an armchair and deciding that they?re not with no evidence?"

No. The alternative is to find a way to cope and even thrive with the inevitable climate changes.

" well I believe carbon emmissions have been cited as a way for humans to stop affecting the environment to the same degree."

Again, so what? There are going to be carbon emmissions on this planet, even if every last human disappears. Why is it such a priority to "stop affecting the environment?" EVERYTHING affects the environment. Should we try to stop volcanoes from exploding? Should we put out every forest fire? Should we save every plant an animal from ever going extinct?

Since the earth's climate is always in flux, maybe it's not a good idea to try to stop it. Since animals have always gone extinct, maybe it's Quixotic to try to save them all.

And remember, mainstream science is relient on government funding. And, scientist are humans too. Humans who are susceptable to greed and power lust just like everyone else. Sagan, who I admire greatly, was known to "embellish" the facts to suite his socialist politics.

The data available to scientists suggests global warming. What will happen in the future is a prediction - not science. It's a guess, and is always changing as more information is gathered. The scientists who declare the sky is falling are the ones who are going to get the press. The ones who say be patient or we're not sure yet are going to be ignored.

Remember, it was considered mainstream science that the population was going to boom - isn't the population supposed to be around 20 billion by now? Mass starvation, unbreathable air, massive flooding, massive this, terrible that, etc etc etc. It hasn't happened, but people fall for it every time. Why? Because it's sexy. It's sexy for the world to be on the brink to feel like you know how to save it. It's sexy to be able to blame it on whatever it is that pisses you off - corporations, old white men, anything with a chimney, cars, whatever.

Great post.

Great post.

titus: It?s called the

titus:
It?s called the Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg. And ?mainstream? science treated him, well, not very scientifically. Check out http://www.greenspirit.com/lomborg/ .
with all this talk of "finding eveidence to support what you want to believe", you guys are either doing incredibly witty parodies of yourselves or you're really just not thinking. The latter sounds significantly out of character with the commitment to reason which I've come to expect from Libertarians.

What was Rainbough's original post about? Finding anecdotal evidence to support what you believe in. Well, Titus, your post just now does the exact same thing. Evidence for global warming is based on hard science, as is some scientific opposition to it- pretending that we can choose between the two just be reading a few case studies is silly. I'll say it again- if you wanna disagree with mainstream scientific opinion, then learn the basic scinece and read the technical literature.

No. The alternative is to find a way to cope and even thrive with the inevitable climate changes.
claiming that it's inevitable begs the question. Certain types are intevitable indeed, but not neccesarily human-caused global warming.

EVERYTHING affects the environment. Should we try to stop volcanoes from exploding? Should we put out every forest fire? Should we save every plant an animal from ever going extinct?
no I don't think so. I'm not advocating keeping things the same for their own sake, only because it poses a threat to us. The question of whether animals should be preserved for their own sake is interesting indeed, but neccesary for a discussion of global warming. The point, as I'm sure you know yet will stop at nothing to distract from, is that there's evidence that our contributions to global warming are throwing things out balance and causing harmful global warming.

And remember, mainstream science is relient on government funding. And, scientist are humans too. Humans who are susceptable to greed and power lust just like everyone else. Sagan, who I admire greatly, was known to ?embellish? the facts to suite his socialist politics.
hmmmm... Einstein was a leftist too, perhaps the theory of relativity is a conspiracy also? This argument is valueless without an example, and obviously biased. Are you a budding postmodernist or something- there is no truth apart from interpretation or something? Regardless, if you believe it you should (say it with me now) "learn the basic scinece and read the technical literature." You can be the right wing scientist who helps replace the mainstream scientific consensus.

What will happen in the future is a prediction - not science.
eh? You could make the same case about a stage 2 neoplasm. The idea that it will grow and spread to other areas of the body is only a prediction after all. Screw the chemotherapy.

It?s a guess, and is always changing as more information is gathered.
right, so let's just wait until it changes to something you can agree with.

It?s sexy for the world to be on the brink to feel like you know how to save it. It?s sexy to be able to blame it on whatever it is that pisses you off - corporations, old white men, anything with a chimney, cars, whatever.
you might revolutionize psychology along with science. I feel that these are valuable insights, worthy of development. They're at least good enough to reject scientific consensus, as far as I'm concerned.

Matt I'm having trouble

Matt

I'm having trouble finding your point inside all the insults. Bitch down a little.

Bjorn Lomborg's book is real research. Not right wing, not left wing, just research that suggests freaking out is not justified.

Other scientists have positied much more spectacular notions for peer review, and they did not receive such hostility. He was crucified in the press, only recently has he recieved an apology. It was big news in the global warming world - the fact you haven't heard of him surprises me. Maybe you should do a little more homework, especially if you are going to defend global warming hysteria against all of us evil right-wingers.

"Certain types (of environmental changes) are intevitable indeed, but not neccesarily human-caused global warming."

So what are you proposing - we ban anything that contributes to global warming, and just wait until a caldera does the job for us? And who's to say that a warmer world wouldn't ultimately be better?

People like you have been freaking out about impending doom since forever. "Scientists Say World Will End Sometime Soon" will always make a good headline. It has been making a good headline for decades now. Where are the failed crops? Where are the floods? Where is the mass starvation? Where is the population boom? Where is the next Ice Age? Where is the end of civilation as we know it? THESE WERE ALL SUPPOSED TO HAVE HAPPENED ALREADY.

I'm not a scientist, but I respect what they do and I wish the scientific method was applied in all walks of life. If respected, peer reviewed scientists say the earth is getting warmer, I will believe them. If they start pulling a Cassandra act, sorry. You can only cry wolf so many times.

Matt: "there have been a

Matt:

"there have been a good few reasonable proposals for curbing carbon emissions, among them a carbon tax."

So taxes are science? Maybe it's part of this "basic science" you're talking about. And you're still not addressing my main point - so what? So what if we curb carbon emissions? The earth is still going to get warmer. What then?

" I don?t think I?ve outlined a single doomsday scenario on this thread, so I don?t know where you get it."

You know what? You're right. I apologize. So now is a good time to ask: What do you think is going to happen? Why should we try to stop global warming? Why do we need to curb emissions (as a libertarian, I would trust the private sector to do so if neccessary with much greater efficiancy than government regulation and taxation, but that's a different thread)?

Please note, I've also never said global warming isn't happening.

Matt: "there have been a

Matt:

"there have been a good few reasonable proposals for curbing carbon emissions, among them a carbon tax."

So taxes are science? Maybe it's part of this "basic science" you're talking about. And you're still not addressing my main point - so what? So what if we curb carbon emissions? The earth is still going to get warmer. What then?

" I don?t think I?ve outlined a single doomsday scenario on this thread, so I don?t know where you get it."

You know what? You're right. I apologize. So now is a good time to ask: What do you think is going to happen? Why should we try to stop global warming? Why do we need to curb emissions (as a libertarian, I would trust the private sector to do so if neccessary with much greater efficiancy than government regulation and taxation, but that's a different thread)?

Please note, I've also never said global warming isn't happening.

woops - sorry about that

woops - sorry about that

So taxes are science? Maybe

So taxes are science? Maybe it?s part of this ?basic science? you?re talking about. And you?re still not addressing my main point - so what? So what if we curb carbon emissions? The earth is still going to get warmer. What then?
You specifically asked what I was proposing and I answered. Taxation is not hard science, sure. It's a political solution to a scientific problem. Mandatory immunizations are political solutions to scientific problems. I'm having trouble following: if you accept that the earth is getting warmer, and that humans are contributing to such a warming, and that such a warming is likely to have negative effects on "a species which is basically living on knife's edge" (a quote from the former IPCC head, referring to humans), then you're proposing what? That we do nothing?

I apologize. So now is a good time to ask: What do you think is going to happen? Why should we try to stop global warming?
no sweat. Most of the serious scientists I've read of tend to speculate that science can't do climatology precise enough to predict direct effects. There are a few cases in which global warming is attributed as a likely cause, like the island of Tuvalu, or the extinction of certain species. The main message, though, is that while we don't know specifics, we know that significantly fucking with incredibly delicate systems is likely to cause a barrage of unforeseen effects.

Let me explain: I share your disdain for wildeyed scare tactics, and I think the "energy crisis" predictions made in the 70s was one of the greatest disservices to environmentalism that was ever done. What we're really talking about is the tension between hard scientific facts/theories and popular opinion. Often such scare tactics are used to stimulate public outcry about somthing that would otherwise go uncovered. This is unfortunate. We have to be careful about walking that line, as do scientists.

We know affecting the balance of a system (the ecosystem) which sustains. We know that the system is delicately balanced. We know that certain strange things have started happening that are indicative of an imbalance. It seems logical to me that we should reduce the significance of our effects.

-Matt