Re: [asa] Why the opposition to global warming

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Feb 06 2007 - 06:24:04 EST

Since Terry has called attention to the off-topic character of our discussion, let me conclude my remarks with the following.

1) I do not consider what I said a "confession" & it's not clear to me why it should be amusing. While I take full responsibility for my own philosophical and political decisions, my primary purpose there wasn't to bare my soul.

2) As I said earlier, I continue to agree with some conservative views, though I worry not at all whether or not I am adhering to any conservative orthodoxy. My earlier post should be read as a recoognition from a participant in the earlier conservative movement of a specific way in which I think it failed. Call that a confession if you wish. I posted in a spirit quite different from that of the heavy-handed parody of my post which just appeared here.

3) I tried hard to make it clear that I was suggesting possible parallels between the views of principled conservatives who, because of their principles, were hesitant to take what turned out to be necessary measures (though in some cases they were overdone) to ensure civil rights and those today who are hesitant to take strong measures on global warming. I was not speaking of those who actively worked to deny civil rights to blacks, though one could debate the distinction. One could draw a parallel between them and some fanatical opponents of the environmental movement but that was my purpose in posting.

4) I made no statements at all about Kyoto. FWIW here's what I wrote a few years ago (& what after some shortening appeared in my 2003 book) about what should be done about global warming. I trust you will see that it is hardly a proposal for immediate draconian action. After sketching the basic physics of the greenhouse effect I wrote:

At this point, however, the scientific questions become difficult. To begin with, it is not easy to determine how the average temperature over the entire earth has changed over the two centuries since the beginning of the industrial revolution. (There seems to have been an increase of a little less than a Celsius degree over the past century.[1]) Then any serious attempt to explain the data scientifically has to deal with an exceedingly complex system involving the earth's atmosphere, input of solar energy, influences on the composition of the atmosphere due to interactions with the oceans and the respiration of forests and agricultural land, and other factors - in addition to the combustion of wood and fossil fuels. Computer models are used to study global climate change, but the results which they give are only as good as the data and the knowledge of physical processes with which they are programmed. At the present time we cannot say that we have a satisfactory understanding of global temperature change.[2] It is even possible that attempts to eliminate another environmental threat, that of acid rain, exacerbate global warming. The sulfur dioxide from fossil fuels which is responsible for the former problem reflect solar radiation and thus cut down on the heating of the earth.[3]

We are faced here with another of the ethical ambiguities of modern technology. The effects of global warming by a couple of degrees during the next century could be catastrophic, with the flooding of coastal cities and the reduction of agricultural land to dustbowl conditions. But if we are not fairly sure that this will happen, should we take such major steps as those proposed in 1997 by the Kyoto Protocol, which would require the industrialized nations to bear much of the burden of reduction of CO2 and other greenhouse gases and would have some serious effects on their economies?[iv] It is reasonable to ask countries which have received the most benefit from industrialization to make some sacrifices, but can we put people out of work and their families on welfare because of a catastrophe which might happen in fifty years?

It is necessary especially for the industrialized nations to make a decision, and it will not do to use the present uncertain state of scientific knowledge as an excuse to maintain the status quo. The best informed guess at present is that our technological culture is having some effect in heating the planet, and that it would be wise at least until our scientific models give us greater certainty to slow the production of greenhouse gases and deforestation. Technology should not be demonized, as if it were always an enemy of some romanticized state of nature, but those who have it should not use it simply for their own short term benefit. The welfare of other nations, of future human generations of the entire world, and of other species, should be considered.


[1]. Chris Bright, "Tracking the Ecology of Climate Change" in Lester R. Brown et al., State of the World 1997 (W.W. Norton, New York, 1997), Chapter 5.

[2]. Cf. Freeman J. Dyson, "The Science and Politics of Climate", APS News 8.5, 12, 1999.

[3]. Seth Borenstein, "Cutting acid rain might boost global warming," The [Akron] Beacon Journal, 8 July 1999, A11.

 [iv]. "Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change," available at


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: David Opderbeck
  To: George Murphy
  Cc: Bill Hamilton ; ; Randy Isaac ;
  Sent: Monday, February 05, 2007 10:36 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Why the opposition to global warming

  Maybe. I didn't live through the 50's and early 60's and I'm the first to acknowledge my historical situatedness. I do remember though as a kid in the early 70's hearing snippets of talk about race in my white suburban middle class conservative fundamental / evangelical context -- usually not pretty at all.

  Still, I'm uncomfortable with the comparison. It's sort of a rhetorical atom bomb -- "your position is just like [opposing the civil rights movement / denying the holocaust / what the Nazi's would have said.....]" So if I question the wisdom of Kyoto, it's the same as denying civil rights to African Americans?

  Monotonically -- hmm, probably misused the word, but on reflection, I like how it came out.

  On 2/5/07, George Murphy <> wrote:
    I think you are reading a 2007 understanding of the racial situation back into the 50s. Even many whites who in general terms were sympathetic with the situation of southern blacks didn't seen it as "monotonically evil." (I'm not sure what you mean by that anyway. A function that changes "monotonically" is one which is always getting either greater or smaller - i.e., whose derivative doesn't change sign. Before the civil rights movement started most northern whites didn't see the racial situation as getting progressively worse.)

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: David Opderbeck
      To: Bill Hamilton
      Cc: George Murphy ; ; Randy Isaac ;
      Sent: Monday, February 05, 2007 7:38 PM
      Subject: Re: [asa] Why the opposition to global warming

       I think what George was driving at was the consequences
      of being on the wrong side. I take that seriously,
      Right... me too.... but, I still think the comparison doesn't work. With the civil rights movement, there were immediate evils visible to everyone -- lynchings, church burnings, people being turned away at the university gate, segregated lunch counters, etc. In that context, it's very, very hard to make a plausible non-racially motivated argument that local governance, markets operating over time, etc. are enough. With global warming, we have clear indications of a trend that could be very dangerous over the next 100 years -- or that could be mostly mitigated by new technology -- or that could be mostly adapted to -- or any wide variety of other plausible scenarios. It's difficult to see the moral commensurability with the immediate, monotonically evil threats confronted by the civil rights movement.

      On 2/5/07, Bill Hamilton < > wrote:

        --- David Opderbeck <> wrote:

> *I was a YAF belonging - National Review subscribing - Goldwater applauding
> -conservative candidate door knocking - card carrying conservative. So I
> know a bit about it from the inside.*
> Really! I knew there was a spark of something in there somewhere...
> Remember, even Darth Vader eventually came back from the Dark Side :-)
        [big snip]
> At the end of the day, then, I think the comparison between the civil rights
> movement and global warming is superficial at best.
        This may be true, but I think what George was driving at was the consequences
        of being on the wrong side. I take that seriously, while agreeing with you that
        the case for environmental action -- on the scale the environmentalists seem to
        be calling for -- is less clear than it was in the case of civil rights.

        Bill Hamilton
        William E. Hamilton, Jr., Ph.D.
        248.652.4148 (home) 248.821.8156 (mobile)
        "...If God is for us, who is against us?" Rom 8:31

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Received on Tue Feb 6 06:24:59 2007

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