Global Waming: A Scientific Problem?

Few places are being affected more rapidly by global warming than the poles, as my recent cruise to Antarctica, with visual evidence of melting ice sheets and personal stories of retreating glaciers, showed. On the trip, Dr David Drewry, one of the ship lecturer's, gave a presentation on global warming, while a group of scientists from America's Palmer Station fielded loaded questions on climate change. In both cases, I was very impressed with how the scientists fielded the issues, making a clear case for why action has to be taken. However, my dinner table, six very intelligent people with political opinions covering a large spread of the left-right spectrum were not so impressed. Their reasons: "We expected more solutions."

Why were my intelligent dinner companions turning to scientists for a solution for global warming? It seemed to be a combination of faith in technical solutions, and a "you broke it you bought" mentality (since scientists pointed out the existence of global warming, they're also responsible for finding solutions). Of course, the solution to global warming is political, not technical, in as it relates to how people use carbon-emitting technologies. I suspect that the vast amount of literature by scientists on how to stave off global warming has been ignored because it is seen as too 'politically naive' (read: asks people to make sacrifices for the common good), while professional politicians have little creditability, because decades of passing technical issues off to scientists until there is a %110 consensus has left them institutionally unable to legislate in regions of scientific uncertainty, like the exact nature of the effects of global warming.

We always go into the future blind. Global warming won't be solved by a single technical fix, rather by robust support of carbon-free energy sources as a prelude to the creation of world economic system that does not rely on fossil fuels. Lots of wealth will be made and lost in this paradigm shift, and we need to accept that these things are never easy, and that the sooner we start, the less painful it will be. Waiting for the perfect scientific solution is only going to make the problems worse.


  1. so, it is possible that climate engineering could mitigate the effects of global warming.

    To solve the floods/hurricanes/droughts/temperature swings/shift in wind and ocean current induced by global warming, we will require extensive funding, and an unbelievable amount of luck.

    practicing low-carbon existence will only prepare us for the inevitable energy and resource crunch that will follow the exhaustion of our fossil fuel reserves.

    when you consider the economic advantage that a green economy will have in a fossil-fuel scarce world, suddenly it seems like these "sacrifices for the common good" are really just good business in the long run.

  2. Expecting an engineered solution to climate change is another example of the attitude of "oh, we broke it ? well, find a hack or workaround" rather than "oh, we broke it ? maybe we shouldn't be doing that in the first place"

    I know we worship the singularity, but it seems inevitable that further technological progress will lead to more unexpected breaking of ourselves and our living environment.

    Biff, you like nanotech, but it will likely be a massive public heath hazard if nanoscale structures get into the environment.

    Corruption of the entire human genetic line as a result of gene therapy is another speculative example.

    Some processes are irreversible.

    I suppose that is part of the definition of the technological singularity.