Monday, 21 February 2011

Global warming: The Gulf oil spill and climate change

You may have noticed that the climate science community has largely been silent regarding British Petorleum's gargantuan spill of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. This makes clear several pertinent ideas.
First, climate science, being largely based on physics, is not easily brought to bear on real world problems like pollution. If gulf oil does not change the albedo of the water it is polluting, if it does not rework the interaction of heat and CO2 between the air and the atmosphere, if it does not alter the exchange of moisture between varying levels of the atmosphere, climate science is largely silent on the issue. So are the climate scientists.
Skeptics too have been muted in their response--as many of them have urged that we allow, even encourage, greater exploitation of our fossil fuel reserves as opposed to financing the build-out of a green energy infrastructure, this is a real world consequence they wish would go away.
Let's talk about the consensus climate scientists first. This reminds me greatly of what recently happened on Wall Street, where our best and brightest physicists and mathematicians were bribed by banks and investment firms into creating arcane formulae and placing them at the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Returns. Far worse than the money that was wasted is the waste of their creative energies. So it is now, as we see so many bright minds with nothing to contribute regarding the Gulf Oil spill as they have succumbed to the lure of easy fame and constant grants in analyzing the ouija board of singling out one variable and betting the world on its changes. We have let the discussion of air and water pollution, salinity of soils, health of our fisheries and analysis of extraction technologies fall to one side as we chased the chimera of existential threat and carbon emissions trading as a cure. What a waste.
Skeptics need to acknowledge that we have 17,000 drilling platforms in the ocean and that they are actively proposing thousands more. This will happen again. Pollution is real, it is a current cost and a future threat. Oil spills are not as cataclysmic as we used to think--the Alaskan coast after Valdez and the Arabian coasts after Saddam have recovered more quickly than anticipated--but that doesn't mean they are cost-free events. They are in fact environmental tragedies that our children will still be cleaning up and paying for.
British Petroleum has had the reputation in the extraction community of playing fast and loose with precautions. Oil regulators were far too quick to give them carte blanche to drill in the gulf without a detailed look at their plans.
What kind of world would we have if Steve McIntyre had been looking at this instead of the follies of Michael Mann? A better one. What kind of world would we have if Greenpeace had been looking at this instead of advocating cap and trade? A better one.
A bitterly ironic side note is that a senior executive of BP will be serving on one of the final investigations into Climategate. Perhaps he will be able to lecture us all on the value of the precautionary principle.
The misallocation of valuable physical and intellectual resources to address the hysterical claims of climate change have played a part in not carrying the fight forward on environmental fronts that have far more pressing needs. What other costs will we incur as a result of this stupid game show?

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