This morning on Swedish telly…

Today I started the day by watching some Swedish telly, Gomorron Sverige I think the show was called. Three guests got to comment on the news year that just passed. They were asked for their nominations in categories such as Most Over-Reported News Story, Most Important Public Figure and the like. One of them nominated climate change for the category Most Under-Reported News Story. Immediately one of the others blurted out that he thinks that climate change is exaggerated and has received too much attention in media. He was told that there now is proof that large portions of the polar ice has melted (25% was mentioned, though I didn’t catch whether it was an increase of 25% or if 25% was gone, anyway, it doesn’t really matter here) and that therefore this is a very real problem. In answer to this the climate-change doubter mentioned that he has been keeping an eye on the water level at the pier near his summer place and there has been no change over the years. So, if climate change is real and the polar ice is melting, where does the water go? My initial reaction against this line of ressoning seems to have been shared by the person who initially brought up the subject, “How could he argue against climate change? And with such a simplistic argument as well?” Then I was disappointed to hear that the only counter argument basically boiled down to “But, it doesn’t work that way” and “How can you argue against all the scientists?” First I was disappointed in her for not providing any answers, then I grew more disappointed in myself as I realised that had I been sitting next to this climate-change doubter myself at a dinner I wouldn’t hve been able to provide a stronger argument myself.

How should a counter-argument be constructed? What scientific ideas and proofs should be used to point out the fallacy of the “pier argument”?

I can think of these:

  • There is evidence of climate change on a macro level, his argument doesn’t explain those away. All he’s really saying is that on a micro level, and in a very specific geographical location, measuring only the water level, he can’t find any evidence for climate change.
  • It’s probably also simple to point out the lack of scientific rigor in his methods. Somehow though, I feel this is a bad way to try to convince anyone.
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4 Comments

  1. Have you considered the “melting ice in a glass does not change the level of the liquid” argument?

    The real danger is not from all the north pole icecaps melting, but from the South pole ice, since that’s the stuff that’s connected to land, and thus raises water levels when it goes into the drink.

  2. Don’t forget the arctic as opposed to the antarctic ice is all floating in the ocean — so its mass was already displaced (fill a glass with water and float ice cubes so that they rise above the rim, when the ice melts the water level will not change). Now if the grounded antarctic ice were to melt ocean levels would rise.

  3. Another point to the argument, though, is that when you say “global warming”, you are really combining four arguments into one package, and considering a question of any part as a question of the whole, although not all of the four arguments are equally valid/verified. The four arguments are as follows:

    1) Is the planet warmer now than in recent past years? (The assertion, verified, is “Yes.”) 2) Is the reason for most of the effects of the warming due to the works of humanity? (The assertion, not yet verified, is “Yes.”) 3) Are the effects of the planet warming not merely bad for some, but bad for all? (The assertion, not yet verified, is “Yes.”) 4) Can the effects of the warming, not just the asserted cause(s), be prevented or reversed without dire consequences of their own? (The assertion, not yet verified, is “It does not matter.”)

    Actually, there is a false assumption connected to #2 that has been quietly corrected, but is more loudly continued: 2a) Is the warming of the planet dues to increased carbon dioxide? (The assertion, falsified, is “Yes.”)

    Scientists know for a fact, that water vapor is a more effective “greenhouse gas” but because proclaiming CO2 as the worst offender suits everyone’s goals more (the goals being to force people and business to be directly controlled by the state, and do as others tell them), the corrections are made in such a way that protesters can be told to shut up, while the myth is continued to be told over and over.

    Some doubters are simply trying to be good scientists, and question the commonly-held assumptions of the day, since that is how science proceeds. Some doubters disbelieve in all of the warming-related data, just want to cause trouble. Some doubters are scared, because they see that no matter what crisis occurs, the solution is always “More power to the state, less power to the people!” and they rightly distrust a system that gives the same answer to every question.

    I apologize for using your blog as my speech area. Thank you for your thoughts on the issue.

  4. This is tricky. Global warming has jumped from scientific theory to accepted fact by an act of faith not via the scientific method. It’s easy to be skeptical when every weather or environmental issue is rooted in global warming.

    It doesn’t help when people like Gore assert that the scientific debate is over when it hasn’t really started.

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