Hoax-Watch: Joe Barton, R-TX

God damn. (From climateprogress and DeSmog.)

You'll notice that Barton uses the name Christopher Monckton - I'm pretty sure I've already covered him and the fact that he's wrong (yay for archives?).

Representative Barton, who was voted into office by Texans (good for you!), is falling into one of the classic traps of global warming denial, and adding his conservative-cherry-on-top to the end of it. The argument is simple - because the Earth's climate has varied in the past and life still exists, the present climate variation is nothing to worry about.

There are two key elements that separate this climate shift from all previous ones.

First, humanity is dependent upon the Earth to such a greater degree than ever before. We have stretched the Earth beyond its sustainable limits - which is something we'll have to reckon with, one of these days - and there's simply not much space left. In the past, climate shifts caused movements of people; where should we move now? Warming won't open up enough of Canada and Siberia to settlement to deal with misplaced people along coasts, in desertified areas, or in the paths of new hurricanes. And we don't know what the hell an accelerated water cycle will do - never mind the idea that ocean currents could shift (yes, it could happen - just don't think of Day After Tomorrow as an example). And saying that humans will adapt is a horrible argument anyway - species adaption due to environmental stresses is not fun and easy. In this case, it would most likely mean a large die-off - millions and millions of people.

Second, because this climate shift is caused by huge injections of straight CO2, rather than sun-cycles causing CO2 to be released from the oceans a little quicker along with albedo shifts on the planet, the coming climate change is happening fast. Recklessly fast. Generally, we talk about climate shifts over long, long amounts of time - usually thousands of years. This one is coming up quicker, and when change happens fast it causes more stress - especially when it goes so fast large organisms (like, everything that isn't microscopic) can't adapt quickly enough.

(Side-note: There is evidence in ice-cores that there was a super-quick climate shift about 13,000 years ago, associated with the Younger Dryas period. From wikipedia, temperatures in Europe may have plunged 5 to 7 degrees celsius (which is a lot) over as short a time as ten years. Crazy, right? Except that the predominant theory to explain the shift is either an impact event or a massive, ice-locked lake covering a huge part of North America suddenly flooding the Atlantic and breaking the Gulf Stream current. In either case, we'd notice the event much more directly than global warming.)

Where was I?

Right: Barton is so wrong.

But that's not the problem. The problem is that he's using his narrow-headed, utterly-wrong rhetoric to justify conclusions about economics. Yes, some environmental measures cost money. Yes, cap and trade may have problematic economic effects - though honestly, who really knows (I have an expert who wants to write a post about cap and trade, so we'll see).

But we have to do this. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Congress voted unanimously to go to war - no one asked what the cost would be. This sounds like a horrible analogy, but it's not - we're at war with our habits, our technology, and our nature. We need our leaders to declare war on all of these things - and follow through, too. We can't second-guess ourselves and hold ourselves back - because if we are reckless in the measures we attempt, it is only because we need to work quickly to preserve the world for our children.

To me, that deserves some recklessness.


  1. I just wanted to remind you that scientists believe that global warming may affect hurricanes, it doesn't necessarily mean that all new hurricanes are caused by global warming. There are a lot of factors involved in the creation of a hurricane, and it's really speculation. If you want more information, NASA has a good website ( http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/ )

  2. Fact check: a lot of microscopic organisms can't adapt fast either.

  3. I've never meant to imply that only global warming causes hurricanes, nor that anything about weather, climate change, or hurricane formation is simple.

    But a lot of scientists do believe that global warming will result in larger, more powerful, more destructive hurricanes, so it's worth mentioning.

    On the micro-organisms: interesting. Didn't know. Dunno if it qualifies as a fact check, though - I mostly left them out because I A. don't know a lot about them and B. don't think it's as pertinent.