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February 12, 2007



Nope, I am assuredly not the type. This particular case resisted all attempts at civility, at which point I ought to have retired but instead found my blood was up. Someone starts swearing at you and calling you hopelessly ignorant, it becomes hard to cleave to the high road. This is why I am not a politician or a trial attorney (that, and the divorce I would face should I choose such paths). Ah, well, lesson learned.

A healthy skepticism is a necessary thing. An entirely anthrocentric outlook is indeed a logical fallacy. My issue here is not that we all ought to jump on the climate change bandwagon, but that the debate should emphasize what steps we can and ought to take, sooner rather than later, to deal with what changes we can reasonably ascribe to human causes and develop strategies that are thoughtful, adaptive, and at appropriate scales to mitigate those impacts we deem unacceptible and within our power to address. There is plenty of room for discussion here, but I can't help but feel we are spinning our wheels on the same old ground when climate change, with numerous change agents including the activities of our own species, is exceedingly well documented. Predictive models that benefit from better data are now within a narrower but still alarming range. The place I would love to see broadbased discussion is at the value and values levels (why should we care and a cost/benefit analysis of what we risk based on various courses of action). My skeptism is focussed squarely on proposed solutions at this point,some of which have missed the important consensus building steps around values and value.

Thanks again, Terry. Hope to catch up over coffee sometime.

Terry Cowgill


As they say in blog-nacular, thanks for link, dude!

You never struck me as a smack-down kind of guy. You are always gentlemanly and thoughtful on my blog.

Let me be clear that I think climate change is real, but assigning blame only to man follows the classic construct of the logical fallacy: A is happening at the same time as B, so A must be causing B.

I know the experts have algorithms and other predictors that give them a 90% certainty, but I think it is wise to be at east somewhat skeptical of something that cannot be proved.

As always, thanks for your insights.


A great question, Sissi, and one I especially welcome as I'm embarrassed to say I was unable to sustain a reasoned dialogue on this topic over in the comments at Tigerhawk while still suffering fools gladly without resorting to mockery. As I said off-line to CV, it was my mistake to take a rapier to a duel with cudgels. I ought to know better.

To clarify my statement that human beings are "the greatest change agent in this period of Earth's history", I would add modifiers having to do with time and causality. Wind and rain will level mountains more completely, given enough time, than a cut and fill coal operation in Kentucky, but time is the significant factor. One rightly thinks of Shelley's Ozymandias - "Look on my works, ye mighty and despair" - but it wasn't intentional anthrocentric hubris on my part that prompted this declaration. Spending time in places where our species was not the undisputed top of the food chain added a good dose of humility in that regard. And needless to say, an asteroid impact on the scale of 65 million years ago would invalidate my statement, hence the qualifier about "this period of Earth's history."

There are parasites and microbes that look on us, to the degree that they give any thought to us at all, as mere hosts for their sole benefit. But wasn't one of the lessons of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel precisely that it was the movement of these microbes over large spacial gaps with human assistance that made them so devastating to populations without acquired immunity? The Black Death moved to Europe thanks to religious war and commerce, just as Ebola and other recent horrors (HIV among them) appear to have emerged when diseases found in remote animal populations made the jump to humans encroaching for the first time on habitat. With global movement of species made possible by all the marvels of our modern world - marvels that I grant bring many, many clear benefits along with these unintended but unfortunate consequences - what might have been doom for isolated human populations now impacts us all.

This is the causality factor that I believe justifies my change agent statement. The activities of our species enable pests and pathogens to spread and increase in virolence. The fossil fuels we burn affect the atmosphere longer and more completely than even the "asteroid winter" that must have followed the great impact that closed out the Miocene. Unintended consequences, to be sure, and the rub seems to come when we get down to what it would require to modify the impact of our behavior. China's miracle of 100 years of economic development in only 30 comes with a corresponding and sobering increase in the rate of environmental degradation and pollution they and those downwind now face. To address these costs would by some estimates wipe out the entire GDP increase this growth has generated. Clearly they will not choose that path.

Sunspot activity and cosmic rays modify climate, permeate the atmosphere, and may be responsible for genetic defects and mutations that are not fully understood by science. They are therefore environmental stressors of indeterminate significance and in aqny case beyond our control (except to the degree we can reduce the thinning of the protective Ozone layer which again, our activities and choices have impacted).

The degree of contribution of these stressors (human, microbial, extra-planetary) on global biodiversity or climate change may be a point of debate, but not, I think,the fact that they do contribute in substancial ways and some of the consequences may be worth our collective effrts to address, and even reason for hope that it within our power to modify these impacts if we should so choose.

Best regards, Tim

Sissy Willis

It's a blessing to have knowledgeable conservation-minded stalwarts like yourself on the case, but let me ask you this: You assert that human beings are "the greatest change agent in this period of Earth's history." Are you not giving short shrift to the microbes and viruses and other invisible (to us humans) forces that have engaged us from Day One in this tooth-and-claw arms race for survival? You know the type -- the cholera bacterium in 19th-century London, the AIDs retrovirus today, sunspot activity and cosmic rays from time immemorial?

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