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
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.
This post is an excerpt from Chapter One of my book:
The Philosophy of Global Warming