Calentamiento de la Tierra


A common quip when deniers go into denial mode on climate change is that the climate has changed massively in the past. It’s natural! Search around and it’s not hard to come across this week, like any other:

Paraphrasing Rand Paul 23 April 2014 — The Earth is 4.54 billion years old, anybody who’s ever studied any geology knows that over periods of time, long periods of time, that the climate changes. I’m not sure anyone exactly knows why … but we have twenty-thousand year cycles … it has been much warmer than it is today. We have data for 100 years, tell me what 100 years of data is in an Earth that is 4.6 billion years old?

Sen. Paul occasionally fights the GOP headwind by pointing out inconvenient facts, notably the failed War on Drugs and the related travesty of prison and seizure running rampant in the US. Credit where credit is due for getting the Earth’s age spot on. A follow-up on the latter point would have been entertaining.

So let’s put this dismissive climate tactic in terms a Teaparty MD might appreciate: disease has been with us for millennia. How does a friendly neighborhood leper or your kid getting chewed on by a rabid skunk — or a plague of weaponized Anthrax — really matter in the great scheme of things? Medical science has only been around for a little while and disease has been coming and going for thousands of years, I’m not sure anyone knows exactly why. But it’ll all work itself out naturally. Just like it always does …

I like to think of this as the mutual fund argument: past performance is no guarantee of future results! Usually stated CYA fashion, right before an investment manager proudly cherry picks their marvelous return over the trailing one, or five, or ten-year periods.

Of course disease matters in the great scheme of things because it’s harmful. It matters because of the misery and death that comes with it. And we know why infectious disease happens, in scores of cases we know exactly why, there’s even an entire discipline or two dedicated to learning why and how and figuring out ways to prevent it. Likewise, the climate events often associated with the mass extinctions Paul alludes to are indeed natural. The Permian-Triassic extinction, the KT boundary, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, just to name a few. We know by examining the fossil record that these catastrophes came with death and suffering on incomprehensible scales, as deadly to the specific victims as man-made climate changes can be to extant species, including ours.

That is a stupid-ass argument to make about climate or anything else. Anyone can understand why, as soon as they wiggle out of the ideological blinders and intellectual handcuffs placed on them by guardians of willful ignorance and partisan police.


  1. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I’m not sure anyone exactly knows why ..

    Which makes me ,well, not sure Senator Rand Paul ahs done anyreseach at all. Has he forgotten there’s a whole type of scientists who’ve made studying the field of climatology their job for more than a century?

    I spose it depends how precisely define “exactly”thee but , yeah, climatologists do actually know what theyare talking about as demonstrated here :

    Among many other places for instance.

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Argh! How did those flippin’ typos get there? Sure they weren’t in before! Mea culpa, sorry.

    Corrections for clarity :

    Which makes me, well, not sure Senator Rand Paul has done any even *very* basic research on this at all.

    & I spose it depends how precisely one defines “exactly” here but, yeah, climatologists *do* actually know what they are talking about.

    Note especially the table of factors affecting climate in the Potholer54 clip linked in #1 shown at the 35 second mark and again at the 6 minute 30 second mark.

    That is a stupid-ass argument to make about climate or anything else.

    The naturalistic fallacy by definition ain’t it?

  3. says

    it has been much warmer than it is today. We have data for 100 years

    Rand Paul is contradicting himself here. If we only have 100 years of data, how do you know it was warmer in the past? And if we know it has been warmer in the past, then we must have more than 100 years of data. Which we do. And much of that data has been collected by the very same scientists that are concerned about the current warming. Why would you accept their conclusions about ancient climates, but reject their concerns about the current climate changes?

  4. Trebuchet says

    @3: We do have data from far in the past, through tree rings, fossils, and ice cores. It has been warmer before and the climate has changed before. But it has never, ever, warmed up so fast. Climate changes are natural. Rapid climate change such as we are now experiencing is not.

  5. says

    I was talking to a researcher a while back, and he told me the neatest thing about gauging past temps. There are isotopes with slightly different atomic weights in water, and they act slightly differently at various temps because they have more or less mass, and in some cases, it may be they may turn out to form compounds, they combine or don’t combine chemically, in a very sensitive quantity or ratio proportional to a temp through a range. He said it needs a ton of work, but it may be possible one day to very accurately estimate average and spot temps in the record down to a degree or less. I haven’t been able to find anything on that idea, anyone ever heard of that? But even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a good larger point to make that scientists are clever people. You never know what someone might eventually end up teasing out of nature.

  6. Onamission5 says

    What if we make the world a better place and it turns out it was all for nothing?

    So Rand is saying that if the current patterns of climate change are all just part of a natural process, rather than a human caused one (I know it’s not but bear with me), it can’t do any harm and there’s nothing to be concerned about. Earthquakes and hurricanes happen naturally, too, so we shouldn’t worry about building codes. Oh right, glibertarian, of course we shouldn’t, I forgot, last man standing gets the whole blazing hot, waterlogged marble.

  7. catlover says

    Stephen and everyone —
    Thank you very much for your intelligent and well-thought-out posts.

    I have one comment to add: (quoting Robert Heinlein’s character Jubal Harshaw in “Stranger i a Strange Land”): “Watch out for short words — they’re slippery.” Meaning that words like “natural” and “theory”, have a number of meanings, and different people mean different things when they use the same words. Talk about “non-intersecting conversations”, as a gentleman I knew put it so well!

    And the frustrating thing is — some people just seem to have their minds welded shut — and are, therefore, impervious to learning new things or changing their opinions when they are shown to be wrong.

  8. comfychair says

    And there’s no record of any of the past ‘natural’ changes happening as quickly as what’s happening right now. Not even close. Another thing to watch out for, is that words like ‘extremely rapid’ and ‘instantaneous’ mean very different things from their common uses when used by geologists and climatologists. One of the major extinctions, I don’t remember if it was the one for the dinos or the really big one before that, the K-T, but it took 14 thousand years – and to the scientists, that’s considered ‘instantaneous’. The shit we’re in now has happened over a period of less than fifty years.

  9. comfychair says

    correction: Durr, the ‘big one’ was the Permian-Triassic… anyway, point still stands: ‘in the blink of an eye’ means somethin’ different when talking about past changes.

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