The Rhetoric of Global Warming

Date: Oct 11, 2017
Category: Review

The first international awareness of the global warming problem started when a great number of countries around the world met in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 at the United Nations Earth Summit. At this gathering, international delegates exchanged opinions and approaches to meet the negative consequences of global warming that include ozone depletion and a significant increase in temperatures in the world. While the participants of this conference focused primarily on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are considered to be the main cause of global warming, and to safe levels, still there are growing concerns about the effectiveness and validity of such approaches. Environmentalists around the world disagree about many aspects of this environmental problem including its seriousness, main causes, and claimed consequences. Two of the environmentalists who deeply discuss and analyze the issue of global warming are J.R. McNeill in the book Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World and Bjorn Lomborg in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. Although both McNeill and Lomborg raise some valuable claims about the issue of global warming, yet independent review of both books as well as the scientific research indicate that McNeill's warnings about the seriousness of this issue is more reasonable and realistic than Lomborg's argument that global warming is not a real environmental problem, embarking the current global concern.

The central theme of McNeill's book revolves around the concept that environmental problems, such as global warming, are the byproducts of modernization and development. In this context, he believes that "humans have impacted our planet more deeply in the twentieth century than we did in all previous history combined." The irony here, according to McNeill, lies in the fact that the same factors that have led to human development, such as economic prosperity and technological advancement, are also the real causes behind serious environmental problems, such as global warming. As such, McNeill argues that global warming, like most other environmental problems, cannot be confronted effectively without the involvement of technological advancements. He puts it clear that if global warming is really a serious environmental problem, "then the equation will be revised in the direction of a stronger role for the environment. Paradoxically, if humanity is to escape projected environmental crises, then technology, which helped bring them on, will be asked to lead us out." Therefore, as McNeill believes in the seriousness of global warming as a dangerous environmental problem that now runs rampant across the globe, he sees technology as the only way that can help us minimize the negative consequences of this environmental dilemma.

On the contrary, Lomborg argues that global warming, like most other environmental problems that concern the world, is just an exaggeration from scientists, media specialists, and politicians. He sees global warming as less serious and less severe than what is broadcasted in media and advocated by scientists. In this context, Lomborg believes that what causes the fears of scientists from global warming is the inaccuracy of studies and predictions made by complicated computer software. This is evident when Lomborg states that "the limitations of computer modeling, the unrealistic nature of basic assumptions made about future technological change and political value judgments have distorted the scenarios being presented to the public." In regard to greenhouse gas emissions, which are widely accused of being the real cause of global warming, Lomborg raises many doubts as to the effect these emissions may have on world temperatures. He argues that it is very hard even for specialized scientists to make accurate predictions of future climate development primarily due to the complexity of the climate system. Based on this argument, Lomborg concludes that global warming is unlikely to be devastating, raising an important question whether temperature change really leads to the predicted catastrophic consequences.

An analytical review of the arguments of both McNeill and Lomborg in regard to global warming reflects that McNeill makes a more valid and reasonable argument than that made by Lomborg. McNeil bases his argument about global warming on historical backgrounds as he refers to many past examples to prove his assumption about the relationship between global warming and economic activities. For example, McNeil refers to New Caledonia's nickel production in 1920s and its negative impact on the environment, especially air and weather, as mining activities caused the pouring of smoke and dangerous gases into the atmosphere. In addition, McNeill makes another significant reference to London's notorious fog during the 1950s due to coal mining, causing the death of thousands of people. As such, McNeill proves that global warming is not a recent environmental problem; rather, economic activities of the past century paved the way for the complication of this problem in the recent years. Accordingly, McNeill has raised a strong and valid argument about global warming as he reviews the recent past in order to send the message that current global warming is a severe environmental problem that has its roots in the past. Reference to authenticated cases from the past gives strength and credibility to McNeil's warnings about the severity and seriousness of the global warming environmental problem.

In contrast to McNeil's strong and supported argument about global warming, Lomborg's assumptions seem weak and invalid. Overall, Lomborg does not give us much insight as to the reason why global warming as an environmental problem is less severe than what is predicted by scientists and environmentalists. He builds his argument against the concept of global warming as a severe environmental problem on invalid and weak assumptions. For instance, to refute scientific assumptions about global warming, Lomborg mentions that greenhouse gases are not the only cause of this environmental problem as there are other factors that may impact global warming such as solar energy. However, this is an invalid logic because the existence of more than one cause of this environmental problem does not refute the fact that global warming actually exists as a severe environmental problem that has many destructive effects on life on earth. In this context, it seems that Lomborg does not have any trust in the technological advancements that enable us to make predictions about the environment using computer modeling. He believes that scientific predictions about global warming and other environmental problems are not accurate enough to make us certain about the real seriousness and severity of such environmental phenomena. However, Lomborg's lack of trust in science and technology and the uncertainty in scientific facts make his argument about global warming unsupported, unconvincing, and invalid.

Lomborg's use of the 'doubt' technique in his manipulation of global warming as an environmental problem is criticized and attacked by many experts and environmentalists. A number of reviews are made to Lomborg's book, exposing the invalidity of his argument and the logical fallacies he uses in dealing with most environmental issues such as global warming. For example, in his review of Lomborg's book, Sharon Begley, an environment expert, argues that Lomborg makes use of bad logic when he asks people not to fear global warming just because the number of deaths from 'cold' weather is bigger than that caused by 'warm' weather. Actually, Begley is right when he raises this point against Lomborg, because even if the number of deaths from warm weather is slightly less than the case with cold weather, it is still a problem that has to be confronted in order to minimize the number of deaths from global warming. As noted by Begeley, "according to a 2006 study, 850,000 deaths from cold will be averted in a warmer world, not the 1.4 million, as Lomborg says." As such, it is not an effective strategy to raise an argument against the severity of global warming by arguing that the number of deaths that may be caused by this environmental problem is not so high. Those who may die because of global warming, whatever number they are, deserve that scientists should explore all possible means to fight this global problem.

Moreover, another critique of Lomborg's discussion about global warming is directed towards the way he tackles this issue. Many analysts disagree with Lomborg in dealing with the issue of global warming only from the economic point of view. Lives of people are much worthier than whatever cost needed to fight global warming. Thus, it is not appropriate to shrink the whole issue of global warming into a mere economic problem. In this regard, David J. Pannell from the University of Western Australia notes that the problem of global warming in Lomborg's book "is approached as an economist would approach it, asking whether the benefits of intervention would exceed the costs." In an attempt to convince the audience with his cost-benefit argument about global warming, Lomborg cites a well-known economist, William Nordhaus, in order to argue that "the cost of implementing Kyoto would exceed the total projected cost of global warming" (Pannell). However, it is not a sound argument to deal with the issue of global warming from an economic point of view only, because this issue involves life and death issues. Instead of tackling the economic side of the issue and disregarding many other aspects, Lomborg should have backed his argument by scientific data and evidence. What actually weakens Lomborg's argument is the lack of support, evidence, and data. This is observed by many analysts such as Howard Friel from Yale University, who argues that "Lomborg's theorem is grounded in highly questionable data and analysis, and there is little if any factual or analytic basis for the theorem" (Friel). Consequently, it can be realized that many experts and environmentalists criticize Lomborg's argument about global warming for its lack of evidence, dependence on invalid logic, and tackling the issue only from the economic point of view.

One way to refute Lomborg's argument about global warming is to state that if this problem had not been that serious as assumed by him, the concerns of a great number of countries and environmental organizations around the world would not have been raised, pushing them to organize two important meetings during the last two decades. Those countries and institutions met first at the United Nations Earth Summit, which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and second in Kyoto in 1997 to assess the efforts of individual countries in minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, which are widely blamed for global warming. These gatherings were mobilized against global warming by the results of numerous valuable studies, raising warns about the deadly influences of global warming. Most of these studies that were conducted by highly reputable scientists and professional experts in the field concluded that global warming is a severe environmental problem that is caused primarily by the greenhouse gas emissions, leading to ice melting and depletion of sea shores in many areas of the world. Egypt, for example, is one of the high risk areas as parts of its Delta are expected to disappear in the near future if the rate of greenhouse gas emissions remains in current high levels. This fact is stressed by many scientists and environmentalists, such as Dr. Norman Myers, fellow visitor at the University of Oxford, who concluded that "Egypt would lose between 12 and 15 percent of the arable land. Provided to Egypt in the population for 2050 and predicted that it is unrealistic to expect to increase sea levels could displace more than 14 million people" (Myres). These results are asserted in many other official reports and studies. For example, in its 2009 official report about the environment of Egypt, the World Bank states that "10.5 percent of the population at risk, and 25 percent of the delta inundated" ("Climate changes..."). Such valuable studies and reports by reputable scientists and organizations raise clear warnings about the anticipated deadly influences of global warming, especially on coastal regions such as Egypt. Consequently, the destructive consequences of global warming on the environment are clearly proven in many world studies and researches. This directly refutes Lomborg's mistaken assumption that global warming is not a severe environmental problem.

Furthermore, Lomborg's rejections of the warnings raised by the 1992 Earth Summit about global warming and the greenhouse gas emissions are not grounded over scientific evidence. He doubts most of the estimations and predictions made by the IPCC in 1992 about global warming without giving clear reasons why he had these doubts. For instance, he expresses his disagreement with the expectation made by the IPCC about the disappearance of 82% of the tropical forest in 2100. He also expresses his uncertainty about and the expectation that CO2 emission will doubled in 109 years. However, Lomborg fails to give any solid evidence or proof why he has these doubts in scientifically proven estimations and anticipations. In regard to the estimations about greenhouse gas emissions, Lomborg believes that computer simulations make a very high growth rate for CO2, which is 1%, while he thinks that a measure of 0,6% CO2 growth rate would be more accurate. However, he again does not fully explain why he thinks computer modeling made by scientists is inaccurate or why his suggested rates of CO2 emissions are more accurate. This lack of scientific evidence makes Lomborg's argument about global warming weak, invalid, and unsupported.

Accordingly, it seems that McNeill gives a more reasonable account of global warming than that given by Lomborg due to the former's respect and trust in scientific facts and predictions. McNeill has full confidence in the technological tools and computer software used to predict the ill consequences of global warming; and this gives strength and validity to his argument. This is in contrast to Lomborg who attempts to express his doubts and uncertainty without building his arguments on strong and supported evidence. In addition, his assumptions seem to be invalid and unconvincing. One of the clearest examples in this regard is when he tries to convince the audience not to worry about global warming, because it is widely known that people can survive in higher temperatures than in colder ones. Even if this is true, it does not mean that people should not be worried about global warming or do nothing about it. Global warming still remains a serious environmental problem that should be confronted adequately. As a result, Lomborg's argument that global warming is not a severe problem because people are likely to adjust to higher temperatures is illogical and invalid.

In conclusion, contrary to the argument raised by Lomborg, global warming is a serious environmental problem that could lead to destructive negative consequences, such as ozone depletion and a significant increase in temperatures in the world. It is hard to be convinced that people should not worry about global warming, while there are numerous scientific researches and reports predicting the disappearance of whole wide coastal regions if the current CO2 levels remain high. In that sense, McNeill's argument that global warming is a severe environmental problem that should be fought adequately is more valid and reasonable as it is grounded on data, statistics, and scientifically-based predictions.