Stop The Hurricane Blame Game

By Mike Cronin

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Those are the words of Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff under President Obama. Plenty of people are taking him up on that advice by exploiting notable natural disasters (presently, Hurricane Irma is their wellspring) to further their own agendas. Curiously, people on (supposedly) opposite spans of the ideological spectrum are finding ways to blame Irma (and Harvey before her, and Katrina before both) on human activity they don’t like:

The first variety are stories that repeat the oft-heard statistic that Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history and that she is a result of human-caused global warming. Let’s break this down.  First, whether or not a given natural phenomenon is the “most powerful” in recorded history makes good headlines, but it’s almost irrelevant – because recorded history is a vanishingly small slice of time on the geologic clock. If we scale the lifetime of the earth to be represented by a human lifespan – say eighty years, then all of recorded human history represents the span of an eyeblink or two.   Indeed, reliable recordings of meteorological phenomena such as hurricanes have only been commonplace for perhaps the last 150 years or so.

Another angle: Right now, there are three hurricanes: Katia in the western Gulf of Mexico, Irma, and Jose east of the Caribbean. Some articles are noting this as another bit of evidence that global warming is to blame – but there have been at least two recorded occasions when four hurricanes existed at one time, and the earliest of those dates to 1893.

Then there are the religious extremists who claim that natural disasters are God’s punishment for our sins, especially homosexuality and abortion. This pastor claims Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment of Texas for failing to pass an anti-LGBT law. Actor Kirk Cameron claims Harvey and Irma have been sent by God to teach us humility and to make sinners repent. The same tone was on offer from some of the more extreme branches of the religious right for Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.

Bottom line: We have no way to know whether Irma is in fact the most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history, ergo we can’t possibly know if her notable strength is truly the result of human-caused global warming, or of natural climate change, or if she is merely a “normal” large hurricane among the millions that have crossed the Atlantic over the eons. Since the conditions that cause hurricanes pre-date human industrial activity, we can safely assume the sin of emitting too much carbon dioxide is not the cause of Irma. What about biblical sin?  As the late Christopher Hitchens once pointedly observed, Hurricane Katrina, allegedly sent to punish us for the sins of homosexuality and fornication, destroyed almost every part of New Orleans except the French Quarter, wherein lies the red-light district!

The jury is out on the effects of humans on climate change, but the fact that the climate is changing is irrefutable – it is always changing. Likewise, the idea that God punishes us through disasters is ancient, but “disasters” only result when humans are affected by specific incidents of naturally occurring phenomena that have been occurring since before the rise of humanity.  The real tragedy of disasters is that we continue to put faith ahead of reason. Reason tells us that if you occupy a place that is in a hurricane zone, you are at risk. You can either mitigate that risk by being well-prepared to evacuate or to survive, or you can deal with the consequences of failing to make such preparations. Neither God nor global warming are responsible for that, you are.

Not so Random Matter?

hqdefault

By Mike Cronin

I started out thinking I had several disparate items for this week’s post, but they all seemed to tie together:

It’s science-project season at my son’s school.  He brought home an information/instruction packet.  He had to get a parent to sign the first page – which is a letter to parents explaining that the kid has to do the science work on his own, but parents can help with the non-process portions of the project (e.g. helping the kid get materials) etc., etc. On the reverse of the first page is a progress tracker.  The kid has to get his parents to sign each time he hits a milestone on the project.  My son got dinged on the first milestone because I didn’t sign it.   The first milestone is to have a parent sign the letter to parents.  Yes, that’s right: The purveyors of the science project’s hand-out material failed to notice they are requiring a parent sign the back of a form in order to certify that the parent signed the front of the form…and they make the kid take the hit if the parent doesn’t jump through the hoop.  On a science project. You know, Science?  The subject where they teach kids logic, critical thinking, precision, peer review, attention to detail, right? Little things like that.

Speaking of science, I work in a small office with five other people. All five are scientists and/or engineers. Our office serves as a kind of internal think-tank. We do quantitative and qualitative analysis, among other things. I am the only one in the office who does not have a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).  My colleagues can run rings around me on any kind of math-based reasoning or problems.  On the other hand, I usually get the better of them when it comes to verbal expression.  I like to tease them that they are all experts at qualitative reasoning, while I am the quality. At any rate, our work sometimes involves (mathematical) models and simulations. Someone in the field once quipped that “all models are wrong, but some models are useful.”

Given the public’s current fascination with the phenomena of “fake news,” I think an adaptation of the “models” aphorism is apropos as a guidepost for judging the efficacy of anything in the media: “All news is fake, but some news is useful.” Two cases in point:

Some right-wing media sources are reporting that Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, as much as revealed that the UN’s plans to combat climate change are really a set of blinders to hide the real agenda: the destruction of capitalism. While the UN is no friend of capitalism, context matters, as does the thing that is not being said.  Figueres undeniably advocates for the alteration of the global economy when she says:

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,”

Note that she stops short of stating that the current global economic development model that must be changed is capitalism (it isn’t, by the way – it’s a mix of capitalism and controls), or describing what model should obtain.  I would not be surprised to learn that Figueres is indeed anti-capitalist, nor would I be surprised to learn that UN efforts to combat global warming are indeed a smokescreen to hide the destruction of capitalism, but Figueres’s statements fall short of being a smoking gun – more like an eyebrow-raiser. The subject bears watching.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the fake news spectrum, we have the New York Times’ headlines for Friday’s attack at the Louvre in Paris by a “lone wolf” Islamic jihadist. Their first headline read: “Louvre Museum Evacuated after French Soldier Opens Fire.” At best, this headline leads you to believe the incident revolved around the actions of a French soldier. At worst, it leads you to believe a French soldier went nuts and started shooting up the Louvre.  A few hours later, the headline had changed to read: “Assailant Near Louvre Is Shot by French Soldier” Again, the French soldier’s actions seem to be the focus.  As mentioned previously, context matters, and what is not being said matters. What the vaunted New York Times neglected, or purposely refused to highlight in their headlines, was that a man shouting “allahu ackbar!” (i.e. “God is great” in Arabic) and wielding knives attacked some French soldiers and was shot by one of them in response.

It would not do to depart from The Narrative by highlighting yet another attack by a Muslim against Western targets, even as the militant arm of the “tolerant” left is convulsing over President Trumps’ recent “anti-Muslim” immigration restrictions, now would it? Instead, the “Newspaper of Record” felt it must mislead readers with deceptive headlines. I’m not suggesting the Times should have gone with “Islamo-Fascist Nut-Job Takes Knives to a Gun Fight in Paris; Wins Darwin Award Nomination,” but something like “Assailant Shouting in Arabic Shot by Soldier At Louvre” might have hit the right balance between not jumping to conclusions about the attacker’s religion, intentions, and connections, and the response of the soldiers.  All news is fake, some news is useful.

When Everything is a Crisis, Nothing is a Crisis

248769_318723208232720_678404428_n

By Mike Cronin

Dear politicians, intellectuals, pressure-group leaders, and media mouths,

All day every day you bombard us with crisis after crisis. Drugs. Guns. War. Climate. Celebrity drama. International tensions. Rape culture. Income inequality. Racism. Sexism. Immigration. Political correctness. The list goes on ad-nauseam. Most are real issues that need reasoned efforts to solve or mitigate, but you spin them into crises, then you anoint yourselves as experts and saviors that can save us – if only we turn over our rights, our money, or our reason (or all three!) to you.

We understand that at some level you have to market and advertise your issue, your ideals, your narrative.  On the other hand, you need to understand that at some point we will succumb to crisis fatigue and stop caring about your cherry-picked and manicured emergencies.  We will become apathetic.  Most of you don’t want that; you want your pet cause to be solved or cured. But some of you do want an apathetic populace.  An apathetic populace is ripe for manipulation by a charismatic tyrant.

If you are one of the public figures I opened this letter to, and you genuinely want your problem solved, dial down the urgency settings on your rhetoric or you will defeat yourself!

If you are a tyrant in waiting:  know that your tactic is exposed.  You are not fooling anyone.

That is all.

Got Reason?

By Mike Cronin

It’s hard to know what to believe these days.  The mainstream media cares about ratings more than veracity or depth, so there’s always an undertone of urgency to the news.  Likewise, pundits are out to sell books, increase circulation of their columns, and keep their names on the air, so they make a living off of controversy.  Worst of all, sophisticated ideologues are adept at hijacking issues or movements and turning them to their own purposes.

How can we filter this constant stream of misinformation and disinformation and get to something resembling the truth?

We could do worse than to try using reasoned thought.   Here are a two examples:

The controversy:  Vaccines.  On the one hand, people argue that vaccines are safe and effective, and that not getting vaccinated puts not only the unvaccinated person at risk of contracting various diseases, but the vaccinated as well.  On the other hand, people argue that vaccines are not nearly as safe as they are touted to be, and they can cause more harm than the disease they are meant to protect us from.

A dose of reason:  Vaccines have proven highly effective (but not perfect) at greatly curtailing diseases such as Polio, Mumps, Measles, Small Pox, Typhoid, and Rubella.  Very few people, (but not zero) suffer any ill effects from receiving FDA-approved vaccines (unproven, or experimental vaccines, are a subject for another post).  A mercury-based preservative called thimerosal is used in some vaccines, but it was phased out of vaccinations meant for children beginning in 1999.  A sampling of anti-vaccine literature would have us believe thimerosal and other substances in vaccines can cause autism or other ill effects. There is no hard proof of this.

Bottom line: On balance, vaccines are an overall benefit, though they are imperfect. We should not disregard the good just because it is not perfect, especially if “good” is the best we have. The extreme low risk of side effects compared to the very real risk of contracting a disease suggest that it is generally safer to get vaccinated than to refuse to do so – but do your homework.

The controversy: Climate Change.  I have remarked on this in previous posts, so I will not go into it deeply here other than to sum up:  The climate may be changing, and human activity, especially carbon emissions, may be the main contributor, but that is far from proven.   To paraphrase Carl Sagan: if you intend to prove an extraordinary claim, you must exhibit extraordinary evidence.  You cannot do that when:

  1. Your change your theory to fit the times, but not the facts (the fear was global cooling in the 70s, then it became global warming in the 90s, now it’s “climate change”)
  2. You change your facts to fit your theory (Climategate)
  3. You vilify critics as heretics (aka “deniers”) instead of countering their arguments
  4. You use muddied language (e.g. “Consensus: 97% of climate scientists agree”). That’s the same as saying “the scientists that agree, agree. Those who don’t, disagree.” In other words, there is no consensus among climate scientists!
  5. Your organizing body is political, not scientific (IPCC)
  6. The “solutions” you propose penalize carbon-emitting activities in developed countries and allows the same activities in undeveloped countries – as if the climate recognizes borders or economics (e.g. Kyoto Protocol)

A reasoned view: Human-caused climate change may be real, but the “science” used to prove that is far from “settled,” and the implied catastrophe is far from certain. In fact, climate science is driven far more by politics and funding than by the desire to know the objective truth.

Bottom line: Take dire warnings of climate catastrophe with a grain of salt and don’t feel guilty for enjoying your modern standard of living, but don’t grossly pollute through sheer neglect or wanton disregard for the environment.

 

Are We Truly Guilty of Damaging the Climate?

By Mike Cronin

The allegation:

The human race is causing the earth’s climate to change in a destructive way, mainly by putting too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing acceleration of the greenhouse effect (warming the planet up faster than if it had been “left alone”).

The evidence you may have heard:

The global average temperature has risen over the last century. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere released by human activity has risen dramatically as a result of technological advancement from fire to steam to fossil-fuel burning for energy. The science is settled.

The polar ice caps are melting. Glaciers are receding.

97% of climate scientists are in consensus that global climate change is occurring and that it is being caused by man.

Let’s break it down.

  1. “The average global temperature (AGT) has not increased since 1995 and has declined since 2002, despite an increase in atmospheric CO2 of 8% since 1995.” The earth’s climate is changing – it always has.  The increased carbon dioxide released by human activity since the industrial revolution MAY indeed be a factor.  Some evidence is suggestive, but not incontrovertible. The science is NOT settled.
    1. Carbon dioxide is not a major greenhouse gas. Water vapor is the most important one.
  2. Regardless, climate change is inevitable – over time. That doesn’t make it a crisis.  We can adapt. It is what we excel at as a species.
  3. Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are growing in thickness and cooling at their summit. Sea ice around Antarctica attained a record area in 2007.
  4. Consensus has no bearing on physical reality.
    1. The fact that 97% of climate scientists agree is irrelevant; the 3% of climate scientists who don’t concur with their colleagues might be correct.
    2. The “fact” that 97% of climate scientists agree is itself not settled science!

The science of global climate change has been hijacked by ideologues who want to further their own agendas using scientific nomenclature to scare us laymen. Note how all of the “solutions” to global climate change always seem to require some sacrifice from the developed world. Note how the term “climate change denier” has become all but synonymous with the word “heretic.”

  1. Consider that in the 1970s, the scare was over global cooling. Then it was global warming. Now it’s “climate change.”
  2. Consider that the organization most responsible for climate change alarmism is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Is it a political body, or a scientific one?  Note that “solutions” to global climate change promoted by the IPCC, such as the so-called Kyoto Protocols, require developed nations to curtail carbon-dioxide producing activity, but allow developing nations to continue to produce CO2, as if the climate is sensitive to where CO2 comes from and who benefitted from its emission – a rich country or a poor one.

So, what can we do?

  1. Don’t be alarmed, be skeptical.
  2. Don’t go out of your way to add CO2 to the atmosphere, but don’t take a guilt trip if you drive an SUV or don’t recycle. Live your life as you will, on your own terms.
  3. Be wary of politicians, educators, and celebrities that proselytize the religion of climate change. They can’t save you from it even if they are right, but humanity can adapt.