Political Remedies and Global Warming

Column by L.K. Samuels.

Exclusive to STR

The article below contains excerpts from L.K. Samuels’ new book, In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action.

Groucho Marx came up with a memorable witticism concerning the contorted nature of politics. He quipped, “Politics is the act of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” Amazingly, a comedian was more accurate at exposing the inner workings of the political system than were many ivory-tower political scientists.

A good example of Groucho Marx’s interpretation of politics can be seen in the hot, politically turbulent debate concerning the causes of so-called global warming. In typical fashion, politicians, media pooh bahs, and bureaucratic commissions have misidentified the problem and are working feverishly to apply the wrong remedies. The ecological-political establishment, led by former Vice President Al Gore, claims that man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main culprit in global warming and that new government policies and taxation must be put into place before the world suffers catastrophic flooding, severe droughts, rising sea levels, lasting hunger, and economic chaos. Some alarmists actually predict the end of humanity within a couple of decades.

But the father of chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, saw climate as “a complex, non-linear, chaotic object” that defies long-term prediction. In a 1963 issue of Journal of the Atmospheric Science, Lorenz wrote, “Prediction of the sufficiently distant future is impossible by any method, unless the present conditions are known exactly. In view of the inevitable inaccuracy and incompleteness of weather observations, precise, very-long-range weather forecasting would seem to be non-existent.”1

Moreover, ice-core samples dating back up to 600,000 years give conflicting evidence about whether mankind is responsible for warming climates. All records of ice cores, including those drilled at the Vostok site in Antarctica, show that increases in CO2 lag behind warming spells, by an average of 800 years. This pattern suggests that rising temperatures are responsible for the rise of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, not the reverse. Leading archaeological climatologist Ian Clark, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Ottawa, disputed that CO2 is warming the climate, along with more than 17,000 other scientists.2 Professor Clark pointed out that “you can’t say that CO2 can drive climate; it certainly did not in the past . . . . CO2 clearly cannot be causing temperature changes; it is a product of temperature—it’s following temperature changes.”3

Even the father of scientific climatology, and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Reed Bryson, has called man’s contribution to global warming “tiny,” comparing it to the likes of “an elephant charging in and you worry about the fact that there is a fly sitting on his head.”4

So why is there such a wide disparity of opinions? Who is right? Since climatology is a complex system, scientists must consider a host of changing parameters and interdependent variables that can generate interactions of unforeseeable consequences. Consider the climatic determinants: ocean currents, cosmic rays, magnetic fields, sun spot activity, solar radiation, axial tilt, earth’s wobble, vegetation coverage, solar winds, humidity, cloud cover, water vapors, ocean memory, hothouse emissions, aerosol particles, dust storms, evaporation, convection, and volcanoes, to name a few. There are so many interlocking and overlapping systems and subsystems that a computer model would be hard-pressed to pinpoint one overwhelming factor for global increases in temperature, unless someone plugged in fudge factors (parameterization). And yet, the political appointees at the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) submitted a report on February 2, 2007 stating with “more than 90 percent confidence” that mankind is the main culprit for the global warming, due to increases of anthropogenic CO2.5

Another way to look at the long-range predictability of climate is to compare it to the three-body problem. Scientists are able to determine the position and velocity of two celestial objects with fair accuracy—for instance, the earth orbiting the sun. But throw another body into the mix, and the predictability of their motion is impossible to forecast (except in certain special cases). Under complexity science, the more interacting factors, the more unpredictable and irregular the outcome. To be succinct, the greater the complexity, the greater the unpredictability—meaning that one cannot control what one cannot predict. With up to 50 or more factors involved in climate change, how is it possible to make exact analytical calculations? This is why chaology relies on the properties of probability to estimate future events.

To some extent, mankind’s industrialization of the world must have an effect on climate. But under complexity science, where so many variables are in a state of flux, the probability that one factor has a 90 percent responsibility for a particular action or reaction is extremely remote. Carbon dioxide is a trace gas, a minor component of the earth’s atmosphere—approximately 0.039 percent. And of that infinitesimal amount, human-induced CO2 makes up less than 1/20, depending on the data source. Under the basic laws of probability, such a small amount of anthropogenic CO2 should have an almost negligible effect on climate. The butterfly effect theory asserts that small variations in initial conditions can have large-scale outcomes, but the probability of ever reaching a “peak proportional outcome” almost totally responsible for a worldwide catastrophe is marginal. Under classical probability theory, the chance of an event occurring is defined as:

The ratio of the number of cases favorable to the event, to the number of all cases possible.

Not only does anthropogenic CO2 warming have a low probability, but valuable time and money has been wasted in pursuing the wrong target.

So, what is the right target? With so many interweaving variables, an all-inclusive answer would be almost impossible to calculate. Some scientists, including astrophysicist Nir Shaviv, have pointed to solar activity combined with the activities of cosmic rays and cloud formation. After all, the sun accounts for 99.8 percent of the solar system’s mass. One solar flare can release as much energy as a billion one-megaton nuclear bombs.6 In fact, the 2005 data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions reveal that the ice caps near Mars’ south pole had diminished for the past three summers, concurrent with the heating up of other planets. Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, said in 2007 that “the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.”7 Interestingly, experts made similar dire predictions of an impending ice age during the cooling trend from 1940 to 1975.

Although some climatologists have pointed to natural long-term climatic cycles, others suggest that methane might play an important role. Until recently, scientists believed that the main sources of methane were flatulent cows, belching pigs, and dead vegetation. But conventional belief has been recently turned on its head. According to Frank Keppler, an environmental engineer at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, his research team has recently discovered that living vegetation also releases methane into the atmosphere.8 The New Scientist reported in 2006 that this source of methane is “no small amount either—between 10 and 30 percent of all the methane pumped into the atmosphere. One reason why we may have missed this ‘minor detail’ is that we know of no physiological reason why plants should make methane.”9

Ironically, this new discovery creates even more confusion in government’s attempts to stop, regulate, or stabilize global warming. The problem is that living trees are considered an excellent and natural way for nature to soak up CO2. Under the Kyoto protocols, nations are permitted and encouraged to plant more forests to mitigate man-made emissions of CO2. But methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It is very likely that planting more trees could, at least in the eyes of those advocating action to prevent global warming, produce more heat on the earth. Complexity strikes again.

Another flip-flopping effect that surfaced from governmental programs to stop global warming occurred in England. In 2001, the British parliament introduced a tax on vehicles according to their CO2 emissions. This legislation was enacted to encourage drivers to switch over to diesel-powered vehicles, since these produce 21 percent less CO2 than gasoline-powered vehicles produce. And sure enough, consumers voted with their wallets and bought more diesel cars. By 2005, diesel ownership increased by over 20 percent. But political leaders had failed to realize that those diesel-powered vehicles “emit more particulates, which can cause respiratory and heart problems.” Two scientists, physics professor Hadi Dowlatabadi and Eric Mazzi at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, decided to study the effect of this policy. The conclusions were revealing. “They estimated that the switch to diesel will reduce total CO2 emission between 2001 and 2020 by up to 7 megatonnes, but raise particulates by 12 kilotonnes, causing 90 extra deaths each year.”10

Political systems have a soft spot for the Chicken Little hysteria du jour. Whether the world is allegedly coming to an end because of Islamic terrorists, human-induced global warming, avian flu pandemics, flesh-eating bacteria, Ebola fever, outbreaks of SARS, or weapons of mass destruction, political officials and sycophants have a vested interest in scaring the public to death in order to maintain a firm grip on society. This is a far cry from the primary purpose of an organizational system—to provide the means to satisfy the parts that make up the whole. With few exceptions, the upper echelons of political systems feel a duty to herd the lower ant-heap stratum toward a predetermined direction, to ward off so-called imminent threats. Unfortunately, these political opportunists usually frame their argument in ideology, not facts or the scientific method. And if the lower-level peons blindly march in lockstep, the boomeranging repeatedly litters the beaten path with ruined lives and bankrupted economies. Whatever direction politics takes the issue of global warming, it is almost assured that this supposed crisis will politicize science, enrich the well–connected, increase the authority of governments, and do little to cool the globe.


1 Edwin N. Lorenz, “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow,” Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Vol. 20, Issue 2, March 1963, pp. 130-141.
2 Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s Global Warming Petition lists 17,200 scientists skeptical of man-made global warming. Part of petition: “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate.” Petition started in 1998.
3 Documentary: “The Great Global Warming Swindle,” 2007, WAG TV, England.
4 “Rebel with a Klaus,” Investor’s Business Daily, Editorial and Opinion, June 22, 2007.
5 Elisabeth Rosenthal and Andrew C. Kevkin, “Science Panel Calls Global Warming ‘Unequivocal,’” New York Times, Feb. 3, 2007.
6 NASA feature report, “Antimatter Factory on Sun Yields Clues to Solar Explosion,” Sept. 2, 2003, NASA website – Goddard Space Fight Center.
7 Kate Ravilious, “Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says,” National Geographic News, Feb. 28, 2007.
8 New Scientist, “The Lungs of the Planet Are Belching Methane,” Jan. 14, 2006, p. 13.
9 New Scientist, “Red Faces All Round,” Jan. 14, 2006, p. 3.
10 New Scientist, “Carbon Tax Turns Into A Health Risk,” Jan. 20, 2007, p. 21.

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Lawrence Samuels's picture
Columns on STR: 14

L.K. Samuels is the editor and contributing author of Facets of Liberty: A Libertarian Primer, first published in 1985. His new book, In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action, was published in 2013. All of his books are available at www.lksamuels.com.


Jim Davies's picture

Outstanding article, LK, thank you!  I had no idea for example that the data show "rising temperatures are responsible for the rise of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, not the reverse." Somebody, somewhere not far from D.C., has been employing terminological inexactitudes.
I do wonder, though, whether the "three body problem" is a good illustration. Yes, the more celestial bodies considered the more complex the program to predict their behavior, but so long as they all follow Newton's laws of motion and gravity they ought surely to be predictable, given enough computer power? I can see that with phenomena like climate, where the governing laws are not understood, that isn't  so - but isn't that because of that lack of understanding, more than of the vast number of variables?

tomcat's picture

Thats the Nature of Chaotic Systems:Depending on the starting
conditions, infinitesimal Changes in your initial Data and the
inevitable rounding errors of your computer will lead to totally different
results in prediction, more sooner than later the butterfly effect will take its toll.
With weather forecasts that might be a few days in the best case.

You can try to improve the data collecting methods, the mathematical model and the
performance of your computer, nothing helps, its still the same.
You might as well mathematical predict the Shareprice of General Motors on
August the 12th in 2060, you will get an exact calculation with no meaning at all.

Who benefits from this Hoax?

The Scientists that hope to get funding for their Propaganda from the state.
The western governments that need a guise to try to stifle the increasing
economical power of emerging Regions like Asia and South America and
to squezze some more taxes out of their own population.

Jim Davies's picture

Lawrence, that's an extraordinary book you wrote. Today there's a new review of it on Amazon.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Yes, this book really is a mind-blower. I saw Lawrence at Libertopia 2011, and we've been talking about him ever since.