Someone please tell me the truth about global warming! If we could just get the facts, then we can get on with our lives – as long as it doesn’t mean too much change. Unfortunately, when a new paradigm emerges, it isn’t that easy. A predictable response to confronting a new issue is to question, argue and debate it before ultimate acceptance of something that challenges our understanding of the world. This is part of the deal with science – sometimes we like what we find and sometimes we don’t.
Scientists, by nature, are born skeptics. It is ingrained in their demeanor, it is what they do and, by golly, we are all better off because of it. The healthy critique of someone else’s research provides a critical step in the trending of scientific thought. Think of it in these terms: When science experiences a breakthrough or disturbance in traditional thought, there is almost an immediate push back in response to the discovery. Skepticism compels other scientists to work at either debunking or confirming the breakthrough. This rigorous process of testing and peer review produces trends, and trending is what leads to one theory winning over the other. If a trend holds, as Thomas Kuhn stated in
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a framework or worldview takes over and becomes the foundational “paradigm for defining problems and solutions to a community of practitioners.”
There appears to be agreement even amongst early skeptics that the earth has been warming over the past 1,000 years and that the rate of warming has increased over the past 50 years. The work of Dr. Reid Bryson and the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC – over 2,500 scientists from 130 countries) confirm this scientific interpretation.
The real question seems to be, is the warming trend anthropogenic (human influenced) or simply the result of an unstable and unknowable earth with a history of violent change? A comprehensive read of the IPCC report shows that when modeling earth cycles alone in the last 50 years, global warming is not entirely explained. Furthermore, when modeling human influence alone, there are similar findings. The warming trend is not entirely explained. Only when the computer models take into account both natural earth cycles and human influence does physical-measurement data statistically align. Like it or not, this combined-activity data has been used to predict future warming projections.
This is a vexing problem, not because the data confirms that the earth is changing and humans may have something to do with it (which can lead to one type of changed behavior) or that the earth is changing and humans may not have any control (which can lead to other behaviors). The real issue here is that the earth is changing and so must we. This is the new paradigm. It will take some time to accept this paradigmatic shift.
As a first step, it might be helpful to think a bit about how scientific revolutions emerge. Kuhn provides solitude to those of us sensing the current uneasiness in the science of global warming. He confirms that new paradigms are difficult to accept and lead many of us to resist until some point that “a new theory seems better than its competitors, but it need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it can be confronted.”
Because the facts are not “ready at hand” or intuitively obvious to support a claim, oftentimes other metaphysical conditions are applied. In some cases this shows itself in moral, historical, personal or other scientific understandings – all attacking a particular phenomenon that can be described and defined in different ways. Isn’t this really where we find ourselves in the global-warming debate?
To most people, climate change is not some form of global scientific conspiracy. The science can be refuted on either side of the anthropological argument. What we need to be careful of is making unsubstantiated claims, often occurring outside of the scientific “peer reviewed” community, that draw attention away from the real issue at hand … that change is inevitable. Change means confronting worldviews and making choices. These choices will simultaneously reveal future opportunities while foreclosing others. This is what we truly fear in the global-warming debate – choosing wrong. Let’s stay focused. The issue is not about an attack on human nature. In fact, it is just the opposite. It is about instructing opportunities for human innovation, ingenuity and creativity.IH
The Global-Warming Debate Heats Up
September 12, 2007