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Scientific Method and Global Warming

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I have a longtime friend who identifies himself as a scientist. One of his favorite sayings goes like this, “Most people that think science is a body of facts. Its not. Science is in reality a method of inquiry.”

And he is absolutely correct.

Generally speaking, scientific method consists first of observation and measurement. This information is then used to formulate a hypothesis or “a good working guess based on the current available data.”

The scientific community specializing in that particular field of inquiry then takes pot shots at the hypothesis in an attempt to blow holes in it through observation and experimentation. The hypothesis may then be modified, dropped or generally accepted as an understood fact.

When a hypothesis stands the tests of time and repeated attempts at annihilation, it can become a theory, or an underlying explanation of the principles at work in the universe we live in.

Temperature data from four international science institutions. All show rapid warming in the past few decades and that the last decade has been the warmest on record. Data sources: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NOAA National Climatic Data Center, Met Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit and the Japanese Meteorological Agency.

Temperature data from four international science institutions. All show rapid warming in the past few decades and that the last decade has been the warmest on record. Data sources: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NOAA National Climatic Data Center, Met Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit and the Japanese Meteorological Agency.

Theories tend to stick around longer than hypotheses, being the basis of general scientific thought at the moment. But theories are often (and some would say will ALWAYS be) modified in the face of new data and new ways of interpreting the existing data.

In other words, our understanding of how the universe works and our place in it is evolutionary, growing and changing through time. Science is not a dusty old book of facts. It is a living process of inquiry, postulation, defense and destruction of ideas as older ways of seeing are replaced by newer understandings. Science is never 100% anything. There will always be skeptics trying to poke holes in the current theories. Fantastic! That is their job! This is what moves the big ball of understanding down the playing field of knowledge.

And that in fact is the job and fate of all thinking people; to move the big ball of understanding down the playing field of Life a couple of yards; where it will be picked up by the next generation whose turn it is to carry the ball farther.

The news media, like politicians, like to quote scientists in defense of their positions. This is a pretty good strategy, but as Heraclitus said circa 500BC, “All is in flux. Nothing is still.” All that we have is our best guess based on current data and generally accepted interpretations of that data. And thats what we have. Those who insist on absolute certainty might better enjoy religion than the process of incremental understanding that we call science.

All of this is of course leading up to a very brief discussion on global climate changes (aka global warming). Yes, there are indeed a handful of scientists and academics disputing this hypothesis. Thank goodness! That is scientific method in action.

However, and this is a big however; holding up meaningful action to remedy the global implications of the current climate change hypothesis until 100% of the experts agree is potentially civilization suicide. When approximately 97% the experts and hundreds of studies agree on something this important, even politicians have to take notice and begin the implementation of meaningful countermeasures. Right? Right? Hello…

This is the Soapman and that’s the way I see it from here in the Valleys and Hollows of Central Vermont.

Larry Plesent is a writer, philosopher, part-time farmer and soap maker living and working in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Learn more at www.vermontsoap.com.

1 comment to Scientific Method and Global Warming

  • I agree, at this point we need to be talking about solution options, not hoping that most of the scientists are wrong. The predicted outcomes of doing nothing is unthinkable. We have dragged our feet on this for over three decades since the science has been clear (see the book or movie ‘Merchants of Doubt’ for more on that).

    The solution I prefer is Carbon Fee and Dividend, a market-based, revenue neutral solution, because it will efficiently address the root-cause of the problem in a way that will protect household purchasing power, create jobs, help the poor, grow the economy, and strongly encourage all other countries to follow our lead.

    Carbon Fee and Dividend will also direct investors and businesses at the biggest market opportunity of this century – clean energy jobs and technologies. This is clear because 195 countries are still in the Paris Climate Accord, and along with many states and cities in the US, they have all made strong commitments to drastically reduce their fossil fuel use. Clean energy solutions will be in extremely high demand for decades to come to meet those commitments. Right now China is investing more than the US to meet that market.

    One can consider the ability of the US vs China to meet this opportunity like this: will China’s directed economy beat the US in this area? It seems likely at this point. Why is this? It is because the US energy market is broken. The cost to society for the use of fossil fuels is not reflected in the price of the fuels. If those costs were included, consumers would prefer other options. Carbon Fee and Dividend corrects that market failure, which will send a strong market signal to enable free market forces to drive clean energy solutions. With that going for the US, our free market economy would have a good chance at beating China’s less efficient directed economy.

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