“Betraying the Planet”

Paul Krugman has a terrific op. ed with that title in the today’s Times.  Here’s the gist:

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

Krugman does say that he would respect no votes, no matter how wrong headed, if they were based on thought and a careful review of the evidence.  None of that was on display in the House among opponents:

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists . . . .

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

Consider an analogy.  Medical scientists think that exercise is good for your heart.  I don’t like to exercise all that much.  So I decide that the medical community is engaged in a hoax.  Does that sound sensible?  Let’s take this analogy a little further.  Suppose that I look at a few reports about some of the studies, and I don’t find them convincing.  On the contrary, the few dissenting scientists seem to make more sense to me.  So I decide to cut back on my current exercise and spend even more time munching chips in front of the T.V.  Is that smart?


Reader Comments

7 Replies to ““Betraying the Planet””

  1. Dear Dan,
    It appears that Mr. Paul Krugman has adopted the common practice of ignoring and dismissing scientific findings on global atmospheric temperature trends, solar radiation, water vapor, natural cycles, and other data which does not concur with the fashionable hypothesis of catastrophic global warming.

    However, these overlooked scientific findings seem to be resonating in the US Senate and I heard a report that climate change legislation is unlikely to make it to the floor of the Senate this year. This should give all of hope and encouragement that sound science and good judgement will prevail. Its time to move on.

  2. Jim Cody,

    Could you please take just one item in your list, water vapor, and explain why that increases your doubts about global warming.


  3. Red Desert asked:
    “…Could you please take just one item in your list, water vapor, and explain why that increases your doubts about global warming…”

    Water vapor is the primary atmospheric gas that drives both weather and climate, and it causes the “greenhouse effect” which moderates the earth’s atmospheric temperature.

    Unlike carbon dioxide, water undergoes phase changes in the atmosphere and absorbs and releases huge amounts of energy when it transforms between vapor, liquid, and solid phases.

    While there are no precise figures, it is estimated that water in the atmosphere accounts for anywhere from 85% to 99% of the overall greenhouse effect.

    The contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect has been greatly exaggerated and misrepresented. Carbon dioxide is only a trace gas and it does not undergo phase changes. Carbon dioxide has only minor and insignificant heat storage properties when compared to water vapor and other major atmospheric gases such as nitrogen and oxygen.

  4. Jim,

    I don’t think any climate scientist would take issue with your point that water vapor is the predominant greenhouse gas. In fact, mainstream AGW science shows that the temperature “forcing” from additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is relatively small, less than a watt per square meter. Much smaller than the “solar constant” of 1360 w/m2 +/- or the global average amount of solar energy absorbed by the atmosphere and surface of the earth, about 240 w/m2 +/-. The forcing is so small that it is difficult to measure against the background climate “noise”: natural cycles, oscillations in solar radiation, etc. But over time, this additional 0.8 w/m2 would create enormous changes:

    “The present planetary energy imbalance is large by standards of Earth’s history. For example, an imbalance of 1 Watt per square meter maintained for the last 10,000 years is sufficient to melt ice equivalent to 1 kilometer of sea level (if there were that much ice), or raise the temperature of the ocean above the thermocline [the boundary layer between the warm, surface waters and the deep ocean] by more than 100° C.”


    The science of global warming is basically the science of black-body radiation (complicated by weather, pollution, vegetation changes and the enormous heat absorbing capacity of the oceans, among other things). Water vapor is not opaque across the entire infra-red spectrum and where it is transparent, CO2 happens to be dominant. Adding CO2 to the atmosphere reduces transparency to infra-red slightly, triggering a rise in temperature to get things back in balance. This is called “closing the water vapor windows” and is where the 0.8 w/m2 comes from. You may find this article helpful:


    Let me know what you think.

    Monica V.

Comments are closed.

About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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