The Philosophy of Global Warming


If you are interested in global warming, climate change, the environmental crisis, and the relationship between humans and the rest of life on Earth, then I am sure that you will like my new book 'The Philosophy of Global Warming'.



In the post below I have provided the book description, the list of contents and the first two sections of the book. You can find out how to get hold of the book by clicking on this link:



The Philosophy of Global Warming





Thursday, 31 July 2014

What is the Philosophy of Global Warming?


The science of global warming is wholly concerned with measurements and with numbers. In other words, it is concerned with measuring instruments, the numbers recorded by these instruments, and with data of other kinds. There are measurements for current atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, for past atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, for changes in polar ice cover, for sea level rise, for atmosphere-ocean interactions; there are also numerical projections for future emissions, for future greenhouse gas concentrations, and for the future temperature and climate in various parts of the planet.

The question of extreme importance is: Can measurements and numbers be a sufficient basis for a course of action? In other words, can one’s personal actions, or the actions of the human species, appropriately be wholly grounded in measurements/numbers? It seems obvious to me that the answer is no. Numbers are useful but they cannot themselves determine an appropriate course of action. For example, a scientific measurement-derived number might be that there is a 95% chance of precipitation in the area in which I live. This is a useful number to know about, but it doesn’t wholly determine whether I will take a particular course of action. In order to come to a decision about what course of action I will take a whole host of other non-scientific, non-numerical factors need to be considered. It could be that in the past whenever it has precipitated I have had great fun standing outside for hours enjoying every moment that the delicate raindrops come into contact with my skin; in this case the scientific number could cause me to change my course of action so that I have time to go outside later in the day. However, it could be that I cannot stand the rain; in this case the scientific number will lead to other possible actions, such as taking my umbrella with me when I leave the house, or changing my plans so that I can stay at home all day and don’t have to venture outside.

A number is just a number. A measurement is just a measurement. One cannot move straight from a number or a measurement to a conclusion concerning an appropriate course of action. In the case of global warming, one cannot move straight from the scientific measurements and numbers relating to the phenomenon to a conclusion concerning the appropriate human response. Strictly speaking, a measurement or number cannot even reveal that there is a problem. The fact there is a 95% chance of precipitation is not a problem to me if I enjoy precipitation or if I dislike it but intend to stay inside all day. Similarly, the fact that human activities have resulted in increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations is only a problem if one adds to the measurement the assumption that the future survival and wellbeing of the human species and the other life-forms of the Earth is important. However, I will assume that you agree with me that the future survival and wellbeing of human and non-human life on Earth is important. This means that we can fruitfully speak of there being a scientifically-revealed problem; it is just that the nature of the solution to the problem is not automatically generated by the scientific measurements and
numbers.

Finding the appropriate solution to the problem revealed by the science of global warming requires a consideration of a whole range of non-scientific non-numerical factors. What exactly are these factors? These factors are philosophical in nature and jointly constitute the philosophy of global warming. These factors will be explored throughout the rest of this book and include the following:

 

 

·       The fact that there are two types of global warming (non-human-induced and human-induced) and the relationship between them.

 

·       The question of whether the evolution of human culture has a particular trajectory, a trajectory which includes the environmental crisis and human-induced global warming as essential parts.

 

·       The nature of the relationship between the human species and non-human life on Earth.

 

·       The cosmic, and planetary, significance of technology.

 

·       The extent to which humans, individually and collectively, have freedom to evolve differently to the way that they actually evolve.

 

·       The nature of the Universe, the Solar System, and the Earth; the way that they evolve through time and the way that they ‘interact’ with each other.

 

 

·         The relationship between technology, spirituality and the environmental crisis.

 

·       The diverse aspects of the environmental crisis – climate change, sustainability, global warming, biodiversity loss, resource depletion and care for the environment.

 

In the Introduction we saw that there are two ways in which humans might be able to stop carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere from rising too much:

 

Path 1:   Humans stop emitting, or radically reduce emissions of, carbon into the atmosphere.

 

Path 2:    Humans use technology to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

 
The appropriate choice of path requires a consideration of the range of philosophical factors outlined above. If one does not fully engage with these factors, if people en masse lazily opt for Path 1, then the consequences will be adverse if it turns out to be the wrong path. In the next chapter we will take a step backwards and consider the nature of the two paths themselves. These two paths are a particular expression of two ‘wider’ paths, two general views of the appropriate relationship between the human species and the non-human Earth. In the next chapter the two specific paths outlined above are placed within the context of their ‘wider’ paths. In the rest of the book we will consider at length the factors outlined above and in so doing our hope will be that the appropriate path will reveal itself.


This post is an excerpt from Chapter One of my book:

The Philosophy of Global Warming


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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Philosophy of Global Warming




I am happy to let you know that my most comprehensive work 'The Philosophy of Global Warming' has now been published. In this post I have provided a lot of information about the book - the book outline, the list of contents, and the first two sections of the book.
When you read the 'Introduction' section you will see that I describe "the instinctive, almost childlike, response" that pervades contemporary thought concerning global warming (that 'Path 1' – emissions reduction – is the appropriate solution to the problem). This "instinctive, almost childlike, response" was in evidence again on the front page of The Observer two days ago:
 
  •  "top climate-change experts will warn that ONLY greater use of renewable energy - including windfarms - can prevent a global catastrophe."
 
  •  "Mitigation of Climate Change, by the UN's Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change (IPCC), a panel of 200 scientists, will make it clear that by far the most realistic option for the future is to triple or even quadruple the use of renewable power plants. ONLY through such decisive action will carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere be kept below the critical level of 480 parts per million (ppm), before the middle of the century. If levels go beyond this figure, the chances of curtailing global mayhem are poor, they will say."
 
('UN urges huge increase in green energy to avert climate disaster', Robin Mckie & Toby Helm, The Observer, 13 April 2014, p. 1)
 
I have capitalised the word 'only' in both of these quotes in order to highlight the widespread existence of "the instinctive, almost childlike, response". It is not a surprise that this report was written by 200 scientists. All of these people are, no doubt, science-obsessed, thinking within narrow conceptual parameters, and utterly unaware of, but badly in need of, the philosophy of global warming!
 
BOOK OUTLINE
 
This is my most comprehensive and definitive work. In it you will learn:
 
What the philosophy of global warming is and why it is of great importance.
Why the decision-making process concerning the appropriate human response to global warming requires a consideration of the evolutionary forces which propel the planet.
Why cutting fossil fuel emissions is a futile exercise.
What the human species is and how it relates to the non-human life-forms of the Earth.
Why the human species has a special place in the universe and how this is related to global warming.
What it means to say that your life has a purpose.
Why the evolution of technology and the evolution of spirituality are deeply interconnected.
Why there is an urgent need for the technological regulation of the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere.
 
The book has 3 parts. Part 1 contains 12 chapters each of which contains a particular theme which is of relevance to the philosophy of global warming. Taken as a whole this part of the book can be thought of as providing a detailed overview of my philosophical worldview. Part 2 is a lengthy dialogue in which I respond to an Objector who poses 86 questions, queries and objections relating to my philosophical worldview. Part 3 contains 37 articles which expand on particular topics relating to the philosophy of global warming. I hope that by the end of the book you will have a clear understanding concerning your, and our, place in the universe and how this relates to global warming.
 
 
CONTENTS

The Purpose of This Book

Introduction

 
PART 1:   PHILOSOPHY

1  What is the Philosophy of Global Warming?
2  The Two Paths Facing Humanity

Two Types of Global Warming
4  The History of Our Solar System

5  What is Life?
6  What is the Human Species?

7  Technology and the Environmental Crisis
8  Why Life Benefits From Technology

9  Is the Damage Already Done?

10  The Evolutionary Processes Which Propel the Planet
11  Humans in the Cosmos

12  The Interplay between Technology and Spirituality

 

PART 2:   DIALOGUE

A plethora of objections, questions and queries relating to my philosophical worldview are posed and answered
 


PART 3:   ARTICLES


Was the Cosmic Bringing Forth of Humans ‘Inevitable’?

Two Routes to the Need for Geoengineering


The Need for Geoengineering


The Nature of the Universe
 
Links between My Philosophy & the Buddhist Theory of Atoms

The GreenSpirit Journal Comments on ITHSS

The First Book Critiquing ITHSS

Ahead of the Curve

The Need for a New View of Humans in the Cosmos

Technology

Human Population & the Environmental Crisis

The Growing Realisation of the Need for Geoengineering the GMST

Humans and Other Animals

Animals Think like Humans

Earth ‘Four Years from Disaster’

The Futility of Emissions Cuts

Prepare for Extreme Global Warming

Emissions Cuts: The Gap between Ambition & Reality

Accelerating Polar Ice Melting & Geoengineering

Evolution versus Creationism

The Calm before the Carbon Storm

Perceptions of Global Warming

Global Warming: Perceptions, Responses & Energy Policy

Global Warming & the Anthropocentric and Ecocentric Attitudes

George Monbiot on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentrations Reaching 400ppm

The Three Questions & the Philosophical Worldview

The Environmental Crisis & the Colonization of Space

Technology and Stewardship

The Inevitability of Geoengineering

The Conceptual Framing of Geoengineering

The Technological Healers of the Earth

The Concept of ‘Future Generations’

Is Fracking Good or Bad?

Extreme Weather Events & Global Warming

How Much of Man is Natural?

Friedrich Hölderlin and the Environmental Crisis

Friedrich Hölderlin: A Final Reflection

 
Further Reading

Keeping in Contact

 

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK

The purpose of this book is to get you to think about the philosophy of global warming. I am very hopeful that the information that is presented will change how you perceive the human presence on the Earth. I am hoping that you will conclude that the human presence on the planet is a positive one, a sign that the Earth, life, and even the Solar System, is positively thriving. I have three main reasons for hoping to convince you of this.
Firstly, I sincerely believe it to be true, and as a deeply philosophical person I simply have the desire to express the truth and to help other people to see the truth. You might be curious as to the source of my beliefs. Furthermore, you might be thinking, are my beliefs just my beliefs or are they ‘the truth’? All I can really say on this is that the beliefs and views that I outline in this book seem to me to arise from an episode of direct personal insight which was backed up by subsequent knowledge acquired from the insight and work of others. I am not an expert on the phenomenon of direct personal insight, of personal revelation into the truths of the universe, but I believe that it is possible that the universe can directly endow individuals who are in a certain state (a state of ‘receptivity’) with certain truths about itself. Perhaps such an endowment was the catalyst for my move into academia in my mid-twenties. My childhood years were spent in the deepest depths of the Cornish countryside, surrounded by thousands of trees and very few people. In my mid-twenties I had been living on a very small island, which is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, for a number of years. Again, as with my childhood years, I was surrounded mainly by non-human nature, the powerful ocean waves, the sometimes fierce weather, the plentiful beaches and the wilderness. After several years of doing a menial, unfulfilling and soul-destroying job on this island something changed within me, some kind of awakening occurred. There arose within me a new sense of openness; I spent time just looking at my surroundings, really looking; things appeared slightly differently than they did before, more alive, more vibrant. Questions and insights bubbled up within me and I had little choice but to seek to follow their lead. These initial experiences and questions led to a journey of well over a decade; a journey that involved attaining a first class BSc in Environmental Studies, an MA in Philosophy, a PhD in Philosophy, an international writing prize, conference speeches in Venice and Marburg, and finally, this book.
Secondly, I am slightly concerned by the increasing dominance of the view that the human presence on the planet is a destructive one. This view increasingly pervades the media, the arts, culture, various academic disciplines, politics and even religion. I recently attended a conference where there were speakers from a variety of religions and I was surprised by what they said. Not a single speaker had anything positive to say about human existence; there was talk of environmental destruction, overpopulation, and it was even suggested that the theological talk of a special place for the human species on the planet (the view of human dominion) was a view that needed to be rejected. According to this increasingly dominant view humans are, at best, just one species among many, and at worst they are the despicable destroyers of life. This view concerns me because it has led to movements such as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) which was founded in 1991. If it is widely accepted that the human presence on the planet is a negative one, and that there are too many humans on the planet, then it seems increasingly likely that plans will be instigated to cull the human species; in other words, billions of people could ultimately be needlessly killed (I don’t know exactly how this might be done, or who might do it, but I know there are people who think this would be desirable and who think about how it could be done; there are even people who think that it is already being done). Needless mass murder based on a false philosophy is something that I would like to see averted.
Thirdly, if the place of the human species on the Earth that I outline in this book is widely accepted, then a range of positive outcomes can result. We can celebrate our uniqueness, celebrate the joy that we are bringing to the Earth, rather than wallowing in despair at the thought that we are seemingly destroying the planet without really wanting to. Because states such as joy and despair ripple out from all sources where they exist, a more joyous philosophy would result in a more peaceful and joyous planet. We can also increasingly appreciate the value and perspectives of all individuals, all cultures, all perspectives, all life-forms, all personalities, as each of these has a positive role to play in the glorious evolutionary unfolding of the Earth. Furthermore, the realisation of our place on the planet, our purpose as a species, can enable us to reallocate our limited resources so that this purpose is more speedily fulfilled. Currently an enormous amount of resources are wasted on global warming mitigation schemes; these resources could be more optimally allocated. The creative energies of individuals can simultaneously be optimised. The outcome of this optimisation, through speeding up the fulfilment of our purpose, would be to more speedily bring about a more sustainable and harmonious existence, an increasingly peaceful and spiritual human presence on the Earth.
I have used a variety of writing styles, perspectives and approaches to present the information in this book. There are three parts to the book. Part 1 contains twelve chapters each of which contains a particular theme which is of relevance to the philosophy of global warming. Taken as a whole this part of the book can be thought of as providing a detailed overview of my philosophical worldview. Part 2 is a dialogue in which an objector to my philosophy poses a multitude of questions/queries/concerns and I provide responses. Part 3 contains a plethora of articles each of which illuminates certain aspects of my philosophy. The reason for this three-pronged approach is that what I am trying to get you to see is complex and it involves interconnections between many different phenomena. You are also likely to come across things which violently clash with your existing beliefs. My hope is that the three-pronged approach will both help you to understand particular points, and also to comprehend the bigger picture. You might find a particular chapter irrelevant at the time of reading it, but if you are open to the possibility that every chapter, every paragraph, is but a small jigsaw piece, then by the end of Part 3 you should be able to see the complete interconnected cosmic puzzle. There might be a complete trans-formation in the way that you see the world around you. In order to get the most out of the book I would definitely recommend starting at the beginning and moving through page by page, rather than jumping ahead to various sections that seem particularly interesting. I have attempted to slowly build up an overall philosophical worldview as the book progresses; that which appears in the latter stages of the book assumes an understanding of that which comes before.

 
INTRODUCTION

Do you believe in global warming? Do you believe that humans are the cause of this phenomenon? Do you believe that global warming poses a real threat to both humanity and to non-human life on the planet? I think it is safe to say that the majority of people would answer these questions as follows:
 
Do you believe in global warming?
Yes. Global warming is occurring because carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing in the atmosphere; this exacerbates the ‘greenhouse effect’ and causes global warming.
 
Do you believe that humans are the cause of this phenomenon?
Yes. Humans are the cause of global warming because atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have shot upwards since the start of the Industrial Revolution, as revealed by the ‘hockey stick’ graph. This has occurred because of the human use of enormous amounts of fossil fuels and also because of the human destruction of rainforests and other carbon sinks.
 
Do you believe that global warming poses a real threat to both humanity and to non-human life on the planet?
Yes. The polar ice will melt, sea levels will rise, the climate will significantly change, extreme weather events will become more pervasive, the food supply will be badly affected, temperature increases will make large parts of the planet (or even the entire planet) inhospitable; in short, the conditions which currently enable humans and non-human life-forms to flourish might disappear.

The reason that I think it is safe to say that the majority of people would answer these questions in such a manner is that these views are so pervasive in mainstream media, politics, culture and academia. These views, in turn, arise from the science of global warming. The scientific under-standing of global warming centres on the ‘greenhouse effect’. The ‘greenhouse effect’ is a natural phenomenon the existence of which is necessary for human existence; without it the atmosphere would be far too cold for humans to exist. The ‘greenhouse effect’ exists because green-house gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, trap the incoming infrared radiation from the Sun after it has bounced off the surface of the Earth; this trapping warms up the Earth’s atmosphere. The term the ‘greenhouse effect’ is often used to refer simply to the fact that by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere humans have exacerbated this natural pre-existing effect, thereby causing a higher atmospheric temperature than would otherwise have been the case. It is useful to keep in mind that the ‘greenhouse effect’ is a non-human effect which has been affected by humans.
 
The science of global warming has numerous dimensions. Scientific measurements have revealed the levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the distant past through ice cores and tree rings, and they have revealed recent and current concentrations through direct measurement. Such measurements have produced the ‘hockey stick’ graph which shows escalating atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in very recent post-industrialisation times. In this period humans have removed ‘carbon sinks’ by engaging in mass deforestation, whilst simultaneously releasing enormous amounts of fossil fuels from their under-ground storage areas. Given these activities one should not be surprised that the measurements made by scientists have produced the ‘hockey stick’ graph. Scientists are also measuring the polar ice, measuring sea levels, and producing a plethora of computer models which attempt to predict how a warmer atmosphere will change the climate in various regions of the Earth.
 
The science of global warming is well established. I do not doubt the science of global warming. There are those who do doubt the science of global warming. Some people claim that the ‘hockey stick’ effect of recent escalating atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is caused by ‘natural variation’ rather than by human activities. There are others who accept that humans have caused the ‘hockey stick’ effect, but deny that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations lead to global warming. There are even a few people who deny that the ‘hockey stick’ effect reflects reality, believing that it has been created by the manipulation of data by scientists. There are almost always people with minority views. I myself am convinced by the science of global warming and thus believe that human activity has resulted in an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and that such an increase leads to a warmer atmosphere through exacerbating the ‘greenhouse effect’.
 
This book is not about the science of global warming; it is about the bigger picture, the wider situation within which the science of global warming is situated. This wider approach is needed because science has come to dominate the debate concerning global warming, and there are other non-scientific factors which need to be considered, factors which are of crucial significance. The initial domination by science of the global warming debate was inevitable; after all, we only know about the phenomenon because of scientific enquiry. However, the time has come to widen the debate, to widen our understanding of the factors relating to the phenomenon of global warming. The time has come to fully engage with the philosophy of global warming.
 
Of course, non-scientific factors have already been widely discussed concerning the phenomenon of global warming. The science of global warming has established that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Since this scientific realisation occurred the phenomenon has inevitably encroached into the domains of politics, ethics, economics, psychology, business and engineering.
 
At the international level political leaders frequently meet to draw up protocols and to discuss how to respond to the problem. At the domestic level politicians seek favour with sections of the electorate by saying that they will respond to the problem. Environmental charities have taken up the cause and have sought their own solutions to the problem.
 
In the realm of ethics, discussions take place concerning who is to blame for the problem and who should bear the consequences and financial cost of dealing with the problem; the rich countries might be the historical cause of the problem, but should poorer countries be prohibited from industrialising in the same fossil-fuel intensive way? Should rich countries provide less fossil-fuel intensive technologies to the poorer industrialising countries for the sake of everyone across the planet? What is the fair thing to do?
 
In the realm of economics there are discussions concerning how to get countries and individuals to have lower carbon footprints; we are here in the realm of taxes, subsidies, incentives and tradable permits. Psychologists hone in on the individuals and seek to understand how they can be made to use less resources, how they can change their lifestyles, how they can come to see the connections between their individual actions and the larger planetary problem of global warming. Businesses respond to the problem through presenting an ‘environmentally friendly’ carbon-neutral face in order to attract more custom; they also seek to come up with genuine solutions to the problem such as technologies to help humans cope with a changing and more hostile climate. And engineers are working on a plethora of solutions to deal with the problem; these range from enhanced sea wall defences to technologies to pull carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere so that it can be placed (back) in underground storage.
 
The science of global warming has clearly encroached into a wide range of disciplines. What has yet to occur is for the nature of the ‘problem’ itself to be seriously enquired into. The ‘problem’ itself is simply a scientific fact. It is a scientific fact that the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere is regulated by the ‘greenhouse effect’ and that human activity has resulted in an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere (as I have already stated, I am convinced that this is a fact). However, a scientific fact such as this, a fact which presents a problem, doesn’t automatically simultaneously present its own solution.
 
A simple way of looking at the situation would be as follows:
 
Scientific Fact = Human activities have increased the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

Problem = If the increase is of a sufficient magnitude global warming will occur to the detriment of both human and non-human life-forms.
 
Solution = Humans need to stop carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere from rising too much.
 
This is not only a simple way of looking at things, it is also surely true. However, the important point is that what exactly the solution to the problem entails is not clear. In other words, there are two ways in which humans might be able to stop carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere from rising too much:

Path 1:   Humans stop emitting, or radically reduce emissions of, carbon into the atmosphere.

Path 2:   Humans use technology to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
 
I used the phrase ‘might be able to stop’ because according to one line of thought, a line of thought which is barely mentioned in the media, Path 1 is not even a possible solution. There are two different reasons why this might be so. Firstly, the damage has already been done, simply stopping now will have no effect; the action-consequence time-lags mean that carbon dioxide concentrations are set to keep on rising for the foreseeable future whatever we do now. Secondly, we simply cannot stop emitting now; the state of the world (population size and growth, economic trajectories, developing countries industrialising, state of technology) and the human dependency on cheap fossil fuel energy supplies means that Path 1 is nothing more than a pipedream, mere fanciful wishful thinking.
 
Despite this line of thought there is currently a widespread view which pervades the minds of most people – the politicians, the media, the activists, and the general public – that Path 1 is the solution to the problem. Despite the reality of the situation, which is carbon emissions continually rising across the world, and immense future changes already ‘locked in’ through action-consequence time-lags – Path 1 utterly dominates debates concerning the phenomenon. This seems to be the instinctive, almost childlike, response: if the problem is releasing carbon into the atmosphere, the solution has to be to stop releasing carbon into the atmosphere (Path 1).
 
The situation that we face is actually much more complex than is belied by this simple instinctive response. In other words, the question of which path humanity needs to adopt is a very complex question. The appropriate answer to the question requires a consideration of a wide range of both scientific and non-scientific factors. So, there is a scientifically-revealed problem which presents two possible solutions (Path 1 and Path 2). The discovery of the appropriate solution to this problem requires a careful consideration of a number of diverse factors, factors which have not yet been widely considered in relation to the problem. To find the appropriate solution we need to shift our focus from the science and delve deeply into the philosophy of global warming.



Get the whole book here: 

The Philosophy of Global Warming




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Monday, 31 March 2014

My New Book




In recent weeks I have been very busy putting the finishing touches on a new book which is called 'The Philosophy of Global Warming'. I have now finished the book and am happy to let you know that it will be published on the 2 April 2014. I am very excited about this book and will put some excerpts from it onto this blog in the near future. For now I will just share with you the book description:

 

 

This is my most comprehensive and definitive work. In it you will learn:

 

What the philosophy of global warming is and why it is of great importance.


Why the decision-making process concerning the appropriate human response to global warming requires a consideration of the evolutionary forces which propel the planet.


Why cutting fossil fuel emissions is a futile exercise.


What the human species is and how it relates to the non-human life-forms of the Earth.


Why the human species has a special place in the universe and how this is related to global warming.


What it means to say that your life has a purpose.


Why the evolution of technology and the evolution of spirituality are deeply interconnected.


Why there is an urgent need for the technological regulation of the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere.


 

The book has 3 parts. Part 1 contains 12 chapters each of which contains a particular theme which is of relevance to the philosophy of global warming. Taken as a whole this part of the book can be thought of as providing a detailed overview of my philosophical worldview. Part 2 is a lengthy dialogue in which I respond to an Objector who poses 86 questions, queries and objections relating to my philosophical worldview. Part 3 contains 37 articles which expand on particular topics relating to the philosophy of global warming. I hope that by the end of the book you will have a clear understanding concerning your, and our, place in the universe and how this relates to global warming.

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Monday, 10 February 2014

Extreme Weather Events & Global Warming


I am writing this article in February 2014 in the midst of what many people are calling ‘extreme’ weather events in the UK. It has certainly been very stormy, with the highest amount of rainfall in the period since records began. Strong winds and abnormally high rainfall has led to coastal flooding and damage, and to numerous rivers bursting their banks. Many homes in the Somerset Levels have been flooded for over a month and there is currently no railway connection from Devon and Cornwall to the rest of the UK due to extensive storm damage to the railway infrastructure.
 
You won’t be surprised to learn that many people are wondering whether there is a link between these ‘extreme’ weather events and human activities on the planet. To be a little more exact, the issue that keeps popping up in the media is whether there is a link between these ‘extreme’ weather events and human-induced global warming. However, the issue of real importance is slightly different to this. The issue of real importance is surely whether there is a link between these ‘extreme’ weather events and global warming (the aggregate of non-human induced global warming and human-induced global warming). If there is a causal link between these ‘extreme’ weather events and global warming, then this means that the immediate technological regulation of the atmospheric temperature would have immediate benefits; it would enable global warming to be stopped in its tracks and would thereby stop an escalation of ‘extreme’ weather events in the immediate future.

The mainstream view seems to be that these ‘extreme’ weather events are probably caused by, or are at least made more severe by, global warming, but that this cannot be known for sure. It certainly seems to be a fact that a warmer atmosphere will cause a change in the climate in various parts of the Earth, and that this change will include weather events which people consider to be ‘extreme’ compared to what came before. However, when it comes to the current weather events in the UK, one cannot conclude with certainty that the cause of these events is global warming. So, we are left with the mainstream view that the causal link is a ‘probable’ one.

Saying that something is ‘probable’, as is widely done with regards to this possible causal link, isn’t particularly satisfactory. This could mean that the degree of certainty in the causal link is 50.1 per cent, or it could mean that the degree of certainty in the causal link is 99.9 per cent. Can we make any progress in thinking about the nature of this causal link?

The first thing to consider is timescales. People inevitably have a very short-term memory, because in the bigger scheme of things people don’t live very long. The climate in the UK, and the associated nature of the weather events (‘extreme’ or ‘mild’) in particular locations, has varied immensely in the past. Over medium to long timescales big changes in climate are normal; such change is inevitable; such change is to be expected. When ‘extreme’ weather events occur they are typically labelled as such because people cannot recall many, if any, similar events in the handful of decades that they have been alive. Our cumulative weather records themselves only go back a few hundred years. Considerations such as these seem to lend weight to the idea that the current weather events which have been labelled ‘extreme’ are actually normal weather events; they are not caused by global warming.

However, this conclusion doesn’t immediately follow. After all, global warming has been a phenomenon affecting the climate of the Earth since the Earth was formed. At a broad scale, the entire history of the Earth can be seen from the perspective of the interplay between non-human-induced global warming (the increasing output of the Sun) and responses to this phenomenon made on the Earth (responses which result in the homeostatic regulation of the atmospheric temperature). This interplay has inevitably been one of the main factors changing the climate (thereby generating ‘extreme’ weather) in particular parts of the Earth over decades, hundreds of years, and thousands of years. So, we cannot think of any ‘extreme’ weather event as being wholly divorced from global warming. Furthermore, this interplay has reached the stage in which the Earth’s (non-technological) homeostatic regulatory capacity is weakening; given this current state of weakness, this current difficulty in ‘smooth’/‘easy’ regulation of the atmospheric temperature, an increase in climate variability can be expected. In other words, the current ‘extreme’ weather events can be causally linked to non-human-induced global warming, not just to global warming.

The second thing to consider is that we are currently living through the epoch of technological birthing. This entails the coming of a point of realisation for the human species:


  • The realisation of the extent of the perturbations that the human species has made to the Earth.

This point is followed by three further realisations:
  • The realisation that the human species needs to deploy
    technology to regulate the atmospheric temperature of the Earth.

  • The realisation that this is a wonderful thing for the totality that is life on Earth.

  • The realisation that such regulation is the purpose of the
    human species.

 
There is a gap between the initial realisation – the realisation of the extent of the perturbations – and the three later realisations. We are currently in this gap. Within this gap there is confusion about our place on the planet and our relationship to non-human life-forms. Within this gap there are also forces in play which seek to stimulate our progression to the later realisations. One of these forces is an increased number and severity of ‘extreme’ weather events. There are two factors of importance here:
 
 
1.  The increase in the number and the severity of ‘extreme’ weather events caused by the reality of the perturbations caused to the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth by human activities in tandem with non-human-induced global warming.

2.  Human concern that particular ‘extreme’ weather events are caused by human activities.


Either, or both, of these factors can stimulate our progression to the later realisations. The second of these factors is in play in the UK at the moment. The ‘extreme’ weather currently affecting the UK could have no causal link to global warming or human activities, yet this isn’t important, it is the concern itself which can be a catalyst to the later realisations. In other words, the concern might or might not be reflected in reality and the reality isn’t important; in this case being a catalyst is more important than the truth.

Let us now consider the first of these factors. One thing seems to be certain: If the human species is ‘slow on the uptake’, if it does not move speedily to the later realisations, if it ignores the concerns, if it doesn’t push ahead with the technological regulation of the atmospheric temperature, then the first of these two factors will become more severe and pronounced until we get the message. In other words, the longer we delay technologically regulating the atmospheric temperature, the more ‘extreme’ weather events we will be letting occur; we will effectively be ‘inviting’ them to occur. So, whilst there is no certainty concerning the cause of the current ‘extreme’ weather events in the UK, there is certainty that global warming will cause a plethora of such events in the future if we are not successfully technologically regulating the Earth’s atmospheric temperature.


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