TCS Daily

Wake of the Floods

By Nick Schulz - August 16, 2002 12:00 AM

"A specter is haunting Europe."

When Karl Marx famously penned those words he was referring to totalitarian communism. Today, a specter of a different kind - a different '-ism' - is haunting Europe and captivating the imaginations of its governing and academic elites. That specter is primitivism.

The best recent evidence for this new specter comes from the hysterical reaction on the part of some Europeans to the tragic floods in Eastern Europe. Those floods have killed several people and badly damaged the historic old city of Prague. Instead of blaming a fickle and often unpredictable Mother Nature for this extreme weather, European and hard leftists have absolved her of any wrongdoing and instead point the finger at mankind - and our avaricious emission of greenhouse gases. In other words, they blame our modern industrial and technological society.

Consider a sampling of opinion from this week:

"This [flooding] definitely has to do with global warming. We must change something now. Those nations that really are careless with the environment should have to compensate."
Gallus Cadonau of the Swiss Greina Foundation, advocating a punitive tariff to punish the United States for its greenhouse gas emissions.

"If we don't want [volatile weather] to get worse, then we must continue with the consistent reduction of environmentally harmful greenhouse gases."
Juergen Trittin, German Environment Minister

"Now we're getting the first sense of urgency of what it will be like when climate change really starts to bite."
Benedict Southworth, Greenpeace UK

"We must massively fight [global warming], and it is above all an obligation of industrialized countries."
Klaus Toepfer, Head of then UN Environment Program

So how are these remarks and reactions examples of primitivism? The chief hallmark of primitive thinking is suspicion of reason, logic and scientific endeavors. The proponents of primitivism, according to one source, share "a belief that the acquisitions of civilization are evil or that the earliest period of human history was the best." As a result, primitivism is hostile to technological and mechanical progress, and primitive thinkers will prefer superstition and emotional sentiment even in the face of a contradictory evidentiary scientific record.

There is simply no scientific basis for claiming that the floods in Eastern Europe have anything at all to do with greenhouse gases or global warming.

"The association of weather events like storms and torrential rains with human made greenhouse gases in the air is not supported by the facts of science," says Harvard University's Dr. Sallie Baliunas.

"Storms, which are localized weather events, are too small to be predicted by the leading models of global climate change. Storms cannot be reliably predicted from global climate models, much less associated with increased greenhouse gases."

Indeed, the statements from Europe's hard green political left blaming greenhouse gases and anthropogenic climate change for flooding also reveal an ignorance of Europe's own history with severe weather. For example Prague was on the receiving end of brutal flooding 100 years ago and 500 years ago - well before the increased concentration of greenhouse gases due to the burning of fossil fuels.

And Germany is about to get swamped with floodwaters. But that's not completely unusual for Deutschland. According to Doug Hoyt, author of The Role of Sun In Climate Change, some other major floods in Germany occurred in 1232, 1515, 1534, 1785, 1813, 1816, 1853, and 1855. And in 1515, according to Jay Nash's book, Darkest Hours, "all Germany was flooded like a sea."

How, then, do we account for these floods in the absence of increased greenhouse gas concentrations? There must be some other explanation. But why bother with some other explanation when the tried and true Chicken Little routine - mankind's avarice is warming the planet! - will suffice?

One of the joys of editing a science and technology magazine has been to witness scientific experts who display both an honest skepticism of conventional wisdom and who are confident enough in their own knowledge to know when to say, "I don't know why that's happening." For example, when I asked the distinguished climate scientist Jesse Ausubel, the director of the Human Environment Program at Rockefeller University, if he could shed any light on how we can think about greenhouse gases, climate change and European floods, he said he simply did not have the time to tackle such an immense and complicated subject, with thousands of variables and possible explanations. That's the sort of confidence and scientific integrity lacking in much of the world of climate science today where the short answer - blame mankind - has become the easy (and press-friendly) answer.

Sometimes we just don't exactly know why things happen. But saying these floods "definitely ha[ve] to do with global warming" or "if we don't want [volatile weather] to get worse, then we must continue with the consistent reduction of environmentally harmful greenhouse gases," as so many Europeans are doing today, is way off base. Such assertions are based on primitive superstition and speculation, not science, evidence or reason.



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