Monday, February 22, 2010

Flooding vs climate change: Disputing the explanations

The easy answer that could be thrown out to counter many of the previously raised questions drawing parallels between flooding and climate change is that we know about flooding. We have seen it occur here. The above may even make some people mad as seeming dismissive of events that have caused great suffering. I even hope it spurs some such emotional response, because then perhaps those people so bothered can turn the other way and see my pained feelings at the dismissiveness many have to the suffering climate change will bring.

I already hear the empty replies of how the science of climate change is so unknown, based on computer models, or even a complete hoax. Yet the vast majority of the people who say such things are not even slightly knowledgeable on the subject and just repeating those things having heard or read them somewhere, like a George Will column. Put yourself in the head of someone who has never "known" flooding or the things that we understand cause it. Consider someone from a tropical area where there in only one season or from a parched desert where snow and massive water are unknown.

Imagine you are trying to educate such a someone on flooding in the Red River Valley and convince them of the need to undertake efforts for permanent flood protection. This is a person who is not dumb, but somehow just does not know all those little things we all just understand about flooding. It may seem easy enough to explain how rain and snow will cause water to overrun the land in spring, months after it fell from the sky. Remember though this "snow" and "spring" may be a completely foreign concepts to this someone. The real wild card though would be having your explanation undermined at every turn by attempted hole-poking.

Suppose I am disputing everything you say. There are a lot of ways I could sow confusion and make it all seem quite uncertain. Like in the previous post, I could suggest that there is not going to be any drastic temperature change in coming months or that if there is flooding it is from water bubbling up from deep below ground which the supposed experts are not even considering as an explanation. I could say it is all part of natural cycles, and we cannot control it. I could say the whole system is so complicated with so many factors that we cannot fully comprehend and predict it. I could say that predictions depend on flawed computer models, where it is garbage in-garbage out. I could say the so-called experts have a history riddled with mistakes, that they have been wrong most of the time about exact river crest levels and how they are always changing the forecast which must mean they really do not have a clue what they are doing.

Then I could pivot from attacking the idea of flooding to the idea of doing something about it. I could constantly cite how expensive that would be (and what a waste of money since the causes are not really understood). I could claim groups who do not support any particular plan because of how it affects them personally and financially must be indicative of the problem not being so severe. I could say that the so-called experts cannot really be trusted because there is so much incentive for them to be alarmist, like that they need this threat to even have a job. I could even say flooding is a good thing because water is necessary for life and that more would help life thrive, yet you are trying to take that water and life away!

Eventually you would hope that the sheer force of facts would be enough to convince and show none of those things I could suggest had any meaningful substance.  Facts like...

There is a well-understood physical basis for the temperature increase - it is not simply based on extrapolating a little data, and a short period where it seems that increase has stopped or reversed does not mean that the longer-term trend is not continuing. Indeed the experts have considered other explanations, and the widely-held views are such not because alternative ideas have been ignored but because the alternatives lack evidence to support them. Complexity and some uncertainty does not mean complete uncertainty - a lot is known well, if not perfectly precisely, and not being able to forecast exactly what effects will affect where and when does not mean the big picture is completely wrong.

Doing something about the problem will have some cost. But a lot of benefit can come from solving the problem, plus doing nothing is ultimately the costliest choice of all. Personal selfishness driving opposition toward solutions does not mean there is not a problem. Experts raising the alarm cannot be simply dismissed as them trying to get more funding. Just because something is critical for life does not mean that, for example, doubling it is a good thing.

Those last two paragraphs apply whether trying to explain flooding or anthropogenic climate change. Mike Jacobs said, "Flooding is imminent. Something must be done long-term." No matter how many falsehood-filled columns and letters like George Will's the Herald publishes, climate change is imminent. Something must be done long-term.

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