Thursday, October 21, 2010

Progressive politics

Mark Kleiman had a post this morning in which he says

Evolution is just like global warming: each has such overwhelming scientific evidence behind it that denial of either one is strong evidence that the speaker is either ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray or blinded by some prejudice.


This would be a typical statement from "the reality-based community" but it glosses over a point which should be remembered.

Evolution as a theory is on a par with the theory of atoms. The weight of evidence is literally overwhelming. Imagine that TV-personality like Glenn Beck declared his non-acceptance of the theory of atoms. Obviously, no one would care. So why do the media care when he says the equivalent about evolution? It makes no sense from a reality-based perspective, it's just political theater. The really odd thing about evolution is that the average person seem to believe that the evidence can be evaluated by amateurs like himself.

Climate change is more complicated. The evidence that the earth's temperature is rising is unequivocal, according to the experts. The real question at issue is: what part of that change is due to human activity? And perhaps more important for me, what is the prospect for changes in policy in the U.S. or around the world that would have an impact on our carbon footprint.

I remember seeing a video featuring Steven Chu in which he said that his reading of the experts was that there's about an 80% chance that the change is due to human activity. Unfortunately, I can't find the link now, so here's another video in which he gives an estimate of a 50% chance of a 3°C temperature rise in this century and talks about what that would mean. In short, chaos.

With respect to policy, raw political advantage trumps good policy for the republicans (at least right now), so we will likely not achieve anything on this front, even by mechanisms like "cap and trade" that were originally republican "market-driven" ideas. Also, of the estimated roughly 900 billion tons of coal in the world, a substantial fraction is in China, and I expect them to burn all of that.

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