Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The thermometer says it 34 degrees, but I disagree

Last month, the PEW Research Center published the findings of a recent survey of attitudes toward global warming. I thought a couple of their findings were, um, interesting (maybe disturbing is a better term).

First, there's this:
The survey finds deep differences between Republicans and Democrats -- and within both political parties -- over virtually every issue related to global warming. These disagreements extend even to the question of whether the earth is getting warmer. Just 54% of conservative Republicans say there is solid evidence that average temperatures have been getting warmer over the past few decades; by contrast, more than three-quarters of both moderate and liberal Republicans and independents (78% each), and even higher percentages of Democrats, believe the earth has been getting warmer.
This indicates that 46% of conservative Republicans and non-trivial fractions of other groups can look at this:

or this:

and dismiss them as somehow not representative of reality.

I do not see how this is really that open to debate. It is simply a matter of description. To deny the charts above -- particularly the first -- requires arguing that we don't know how to measure temperature.

Here's something I find even more disturbing:
There also are striking educational differences in partisans' views of global warming. Among Republicans, higher education is linked to greater skepticism about global warming -- fully 43% of Republicans with a college degree say that there is no evidence of global warming, compared with 24% of Republicans with less education.

But among Democrats, the pattern is the reverse. Fully 75% of Democrats with college degrees say that there is solid evidence of global warming and that it is caused by human activities. This is far higher than among Democrats with less education among whom 52% say the same. Independents, regardless of education levels, fall in between these partisan extremes.

While I am not completely certain (the wording is a little unclear), I think this indicates that 43% of college educated republicans dismiss the charts above. I find this unbelievable. I guess it is quasi-reasonable to debate that human activity is causing the temperature rise, and it is certainly reasonable to debate what policies to pursue, but describing temperature change is simply a matter of measurement and description. While there are many things that we measure poorly, I do not see how temperature can be included in this set.

while i agree that this seems bizarre, and i certainly believe the earth is warming up, it's not obvious to me that your comment about temperature being tough to measure is true. It is true in the last 100 years (where we've seen a big rise), but how do they come up with a temperature chart going back to the middle ages? I can understand a reasonable, educated person being skeptical about that. Again, that doesn't relieve you from accepting the last 100 years which seem pretty obviously to be a big rise (but it could leave you skeptical that such a rise is necessarily exceptional).

I, for example, see the charts that oil alarmists show about oil production having peaked in 2000 or something and am very skeptical. Of course, oil is much harder to measure than temperature.
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