When the conditions today are significantly different from conditions in the past, relying on the past to predict the present or the future is an illogical appeal to history.
For more posts in this series, please click here.There are a lot of illogical arguments made by climate disruption deniers (those who deny the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the reality of industrial climate disruption). One of the most common illogical arguments is that increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) today can’t cause global warming because CO2 increased after global warming had already started when previous ice ages were ending. This argument sounds reasonable, but it’s actually a logical fallacy known as a “predictive appeal to history” (also known as an “appeal to tradition“). It’s the wrong same argument as “we’ve always done it this way, so we have to keep doing this way.”
To illustrate the issue with this argument, let’s look at an apocryphal story told by Richard Quinnell to engineers:
In the early 1940s, so the story goes, the Army wanted a dependable supply of llama dung, as required by specifications for treating the leather used in airplane seats. Submarine attacks made shipping from South America unreliable, so the Army attempted to establish a herd of llamas in New Jersey. Only after the attempt failed did anyone question the specification.
Subsequent research revealed that the US Army had copied a British Army specification dating back to Great Britain’s era of colonial expansion. The original specification applied to saddle leather. Great Britain’s pressing need for cavalry to patrol its many colonies meant bring together raw recruits, untrained horses, and new saddles. The leather smell made the horses skittish and unmanageable. Treating the saddle leather with llama dung imparted an odor that calmed the horses. The treatment, therefore, became part of the leather’s specification, which remained unchanged for a century.
The moral of the story is that, since airplanes don’t need to be calmed down, the llama dung was unnecessary. Something had changed that rendered the historical knowledge irrelevant. Continue reading