Tom Purcell, 2/22/2007 [Archive]

Cold Hard Science

Cold, Hard Science

By Tom Purcell

"I knew it! I knew that humans are the cause of global warming!"

"Ah, yes, you refer to a summary report recently released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It concludes that human actions are 'very likely' the cause of global warming."

"Very likely? The summary says there's a 90 percent probability that greenhouse gases, a byproduct of the fossil fuels we burn, are causing the Earth to warm."

"Look, it is a fact that the Earth is warming. But the exact cause of the warming has not yet been proven. That is the unfortunate truth."

"You're a Republican, aren't you?"

"Politics should have nothing to do with science. Scientists are supposed to follow the scientific method. They come up with a hypothesis, then apply a rigorous, objective, measurable process to either prove or disprove it."

"Your point?"

"How is it that there's a 90 percent chance humans are causing global warming? Doesn't that mean there's a 10 percent chance we've got nothing to do with it? Shouldn't scientists be more precise -- that humans are causing all global warming or none of it or 28.3756 percent of it?"

"But the atmosphere is incredibly complex. I think you're asking a lot."

"Maybe I am, but let me ask you a question. A plane is designed and built based on scientific facts and principles. Would you board a plane if it only had a 90 percent probability of arriving at its destination?"

"Not sober. But isn't there a consensus among the world's scientists? Many believe that human activity is the cause of global warming."

"The key word is 'believe.' Scientists aren't supposed to believe. They're supposed to prove or disprove. As for consensus, Michael Crichton had some interesting thoughts. He says consensus the first refuge of scoundrels. He talked about it in a speech he gave in 2003."

"Michael Crichton the novelist?"

"Yes. He's also medical doctor and scientist. He said consensus is the business of politics, not science. He said that the great scientific discoveries have never come about by consensus, but by bold scientists who have struck off on their own. When a thing is proven to be a scientific truth, there's no need for consensus. You never hear somebody say 'a consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2.'"

"So what are you getting at?"

"It is possible that humans are causing the Earth to warm. It's also possible that it's a natural cycle -- the Earth is always warming and cooling. It's possible that the increase in greenhouse gases has nothing to do with global warming. A lot of things are possible, but we need our scientists to uncover the facts -- not beliefs or speculation or opinion."

"That sounds like a heck of a difficult task."

"It surely is. Meteorologists have trouble predicting what the weather will be like in 24 hours. I can't imagine how hard it will be to prove what the climate will be like in 100 years, but that is their burden."

"You're tough."

"The truth is, we all need to get back to the basics. Journalists should hold scientists to account. There is a lot of fiction out there masquerading as fact and we need our journalists to get and report the truth and nothing but the truth."

"I suppose you'll criticize our politicians, too?"

"To be sure. Some are purposely clouding the issue to raise campaign dough and curry favor with some voters. The press must hold them to account, too."

"What about the rest of us?"

"Even if it is proven that we're not causing the Earth to warm, we should act anyhow. Why don't we demand technology that allows cars to get 60 miles to the gallon? We're pumping billions of dollars into oil-producing nations that only mean us harm."

"That's no good."

"And why in a country as ingenious as ours haven't we already switched to cheap, clean alternatives to gasoline, coal and natural gas? Why not nuclear power? Why not cars that run on fuel cells or some other technology that hasn't even been invented yet?"

"Beats me."

"And why haven't we invented a technology fueled by our most abundant resource -- one that could cleanly power our plants and cars?"

"What resource would that be?"

"Hot air. I doubt we'll ever have a shortage of that."

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. For comments to Tom, please email him at

RESTRICTIONS: 'Tom Purcell's column may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties. It may appear only in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its sister publications."

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