Climate Illogic: don’t be distracted by irrational assertions of global warming catastrophe and crisis

“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.

8 replies »

  1. While not arguing the premise, I find your comparison of fields of knowledge with a trend obfuscatory Brian. One thing I would like to see in your well written articles on this subject are suggestions about what and how much leverage you feel the world should be applying to mitigate the damage done.

    I have grave doubts about China, India, South America, and Africa for example, ever agreeing to throttle their emergence as industrialized nations for global climate good. How do we find the wherewithal to roll back carbon emissions without strangling the world economy?

    As always, good brain food thanks!

    • Frank – in my opinion the Climate Illogic series isn’t really the place for the kind of discussion you’re asking about. But I’ll happily do a post on that subject since you’re interested.

      • Sorry Brian, following your series for some time has swayed me from casual skeptic to interested believer and as such I have become impatient for discussion of pragmatic solutions.

        You’re right of course, this series is about refuting misinformation on the problem not defining corrective action. Whatever you pump out, I’ll be glad to read.

  2. LOL!
    The lay reader should be cautioned that quantum mechanics is no necessary ingredient in greenhouse theory. 19th century experimental spectroscopy suffices.

    It is a bit less weird to be sceptic of Heisenberg’s uncertainty (which he explained with catastrophic measurement effects). Or of General Relativity (never mindy your GPS). But this seems no longer fashionable. Once upon a time classical physics scepticism was confined to fundamentalist classical economists (e.g. perpetuum mobile, finitude of round objects, etc.) and the grown-ups focussed on Heisenberg or Einstein. How deep have we sunk meanwhile…

  3. The only people appending catastrophe and crisis to global warming are environmentalists, politicians, and so-called wildlife groups, e.g., Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and not people skeptical of man-made global warming. And I think it’s important to note it’s called the “theory of anthropogenic global warming” for an important reason: it’s been disproved over and over again. The earth has been cooling and warming for billions of years. The current theory that man is causing the planet to warm up via the exhalations of carbon dioxide is just that: a theory.

    • nejking, are you familiar with the difference between the scientific and popular usage of the word “theory?” This story at LiveScience.com gives a good overview. Suffice it to say that you’re confusing the two usages, and the scientific usage – an explanation that has been confirmed via reasoning, observation, and experimentation – is the correct one.

      And if it’s only environmentalists et al who are at fault, then why is it that the only people who use CAGW and related terms are the supposedly skeptical?