“Global warming crisis” and “catastrophic global warming” are common straw man arguments.
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There are a couple of terms commonly used by climate disruption deniers (those who deny that industrial climate disruption1 is derived from widely accepted scientific laws) that are nearly always attempts to distract the reader (aka “red herrings”). These terms often are used specifically because they appear to be both relevant and reasonable, but are actually neither. Instead, these terms are logical errors, specifically “straw men” logical fallacies.
These terms are “catastrophic global warming” and “global warming crisis” as well as their variants.
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the word “crisis” as “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome (emphasis original).” “Catastrophic” is an adjective that means of or relating to “a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin.” But neither word is clear and unambiguous. Their potential for ambiguity is one of the major clues that both words, when appended to scientific terms like “global warming,” are distractions.
Fundamentally, there are clear and unambiguous scientific definitions for global warming . Different people may have slightly different definitions, but each definition of “global warming” can be defended on a scientific basis. The same cannot be said for either “catastrophic global warming” or “global warming crisis.” Global warming may well represent a catastrophe for people living in the Pacific islands yet present a windfall opportunity for the residents of Greenland. And while global warming could be fantastic for mosquito-borne pathogens, what’s good for pathogens tends to create global warming-related public health crises.
“Catastrophic global warming” and “global warming crisis” are clearly too vague to be scientific terms. But they’re also absurd in the sense that there is no rational connections between the parts of the phrases. Tacking on either “catastrophic” or “crisis” to other scientific terms demonstrates this absurdity, as the following list shows:
- catastrophic quantum mechanics
- Newtonian motion crisis
- catastrophic general relativity
- ideal gas law crisis
- catastrophic dark matter
- photovoltaic effect crisis
- catastrophic water triple point
- adiabatic lapse rate crisis
Global warming, or it’s more scientifically accurate synonyms “climate change” and “climate disruption,” is a scientific fact. It’s based on the observed infrared properties of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other greenhouse gases, and those properties are explained by quantum mechanics. Global warming is as true as the ideal gas law or Newton’s laws of motion. And so “catastrophic global warming” and “global warming crisis” are just as absurd as the nonsensical list of terms above.
Given these facts, it’s pretty easy to see why “catastrophic global warming” and “global warming crisis” are not just distractions, they’re straw men. When someone who denies the science of global warming appends “catastrophic” or “crisis,” he or she is doing so because attacking claims of crisis or catastrophe are easier than attacking quantum mechanics, the observed infrared properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide, and the myriad other scientific laws that all fold into the scientific fact of global warming. And that’s the very definition of a straw man argument – attacking an argument that the opponent didn’t make.
And the best thing to do when when someone makes straw man arguments like these is to recognize the attempt at distraction, call it what it is, and to refuse to be distracted.