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climate change








An Argument to Nowhere

Oil Reserves ChartClimate skeptics set great store by the argument that science has not "definitively proved" that human actions are the cause of global warming. The chief problem with this argument is that it goes against the scientific consensus and the evidence, but there is another criticism, less-noted but equally compelling: It does not support the policies that the skeptics think it does.

Skeptics, among them Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (insofar as I can make out what she is saying), are fond of simply stating that there is doubt about the role of human activity in climate change, as if because of this we need not worry about our use of fossil fuels. The implication (never stated) is that we are free to drive to our heart's content in ever-bigger cars, build a new coal-fired electric plant each week, and clear as much rain forest as we like. Nothing of the sort, however, follows. The argument is a kind of bridge to nowhere—or more accurately, to an uninhabitable planet.

What the skeptics have done is to assume that the only reason to cut back on fossil fuels is the danger of global warming. If we can't prevent it whatever we do, then we do not have to change.

Not quite. The reasons to cut back on fossil fuels are many, and they would be persuasive even if the skeptics were right and climate change were beyond human control. Some of the arguments below apply to all countries; others apply chiefly to the West and the United States. None depend on any particular explanation of climate change.

The climate skeptics are, of course, wrong. All the evidence and the consensus of the science community says that humans have helped to create global warming and can help to alleviate by changing their way of life. But climate change is not the only reason to change. As the (admittedly incomplete) list above shows, there are many others.