LETTERS News Weekly
, November 10, 2012
Global warming trend is real
Peter Westmore’s article, “Arctic sea ice recovery contradicts ‘global warming’” (News Weekly, October 27, 2012), contains a number of errors and omissions that, taken collectively, might have led him, and readers to draw somewhat different conclusions.
First, when he stated that “the extent of Arctic sea ice is back to about what it was in 2007, at this time of year”, it would have been appropriate for him to explain what makes 2007 significant.
As data sets from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the United States show, 2007 stands out as the second-lowest sea extent in the satellite record. Had Mr Westmore chosen a more statistically robust comparison, such as against the average of all years this decade, the 1990s, the 1980s, all three decades or indeed the year-by-year figures from 1978 to 2012, he could only have concluded there is a clear downward trend.
Second, the data from the aforementioned agencies show that while the area of Antarctic sea ice has grown slightly, the gain in the Antarctic minimum extent is about 5 and 10 per cent above the 1979-2000 average; the loss in the Arctic is almost 50 per cent below the 1979-2000 average. To state “there has been little overall loss of sea ice across the world over the past 30 years” is highly misleading, especially without any attempt to explain the causes of the divergence.
Third, the point made by the UK Met Office was about the danger of making bold statements about trends by arbitrarily choosing dates for comparison. Given this is what Mr Westmore has done with his sea-ice comparisons, it is unfortunate he has misrepresented the Met Office’s statement. What it said, precisely, was: “As we’ve stressed before, choosing a starting or end point on short-term scales can be very misleading. Climate change can only be detected from multi-decadal timescales due to the inherent variability in the climate system.”
1997 was what is known as an outlier year in the global temperature record. Had the UK Daily Mail used the start of 1996 or 1998 for its comparison with the temperature in August 2012, its headline would have been quite different. The fact that 1997 can only now be used to proclaim “no warming” (rather than, say, the “global cooling” Mr Westmore has regularly mispredicted over recent years) is itself significant.
This confirms the wisdom of using multi-decadal timescales. If there is evidence to contradict its statement that “the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s, and the 2000s were warmer than both”, please present it.
Lastly, Mr Westmore might be correct in suggesting the “preoccupation with climate change is part of an ideological agenda”. But informed readers of News Weekly might well ask if his own presentation of the issue is irreparably infected by putting an agenda before facts.
Which is a shame, since News Weekly is not only undermining its credibility as a source of informed opinion but missing the opportunity to explore and explain how the distributist and decentralist principles of its founder, B.A. Santamaria, can help solve the twin problems of environmental and social degradation.
Should economics be concerned with ethics?
In November 2011, I discussed with Dr William R. Luckey, who is professor of political science and economics at Christendom College, USA, the ideas of Dr Robert D. Mueller, whose book, Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element, was reviewed by Dr Jennifer Roback Morse (News Weekly, October 27, 2012).
I stated the following about Dr Mueller: “He believes that economic theory has had no way to account for a fundamental aspect of human experience: the social relationships that define us, the loves (and hates) that motivate and distinguish us as persons. He brings that in under ‘final distribution’. So he places the ethics within the science of economics.
“To make this into a virtual school of economics seems to me not part of the science, although essential for the people who engage in economics.
“But as Alejandro Chafuen points out, economics ‘is the study of the formal applications that can be deduced from the fact that human beings act purposefully. It does not consider whether these actions are good or bad (an ethical question). Economic science is value-free. It analyses cause and effect relationships that, if true, are scientific … only human acts can be judged morally.’ (Dr Alejandro Chafuen, Christians For Freedom, Ignatius, 1986, p.33).
“Fr James Sadowsky, SJ, professor emeritus of philosophy at Fordham University, said that ethics is prescriptive while economics is descriptive. ‘Economics,’ he says, ‘indicates the probable effects of certain policies, while ethics determines what one should do.’ These are two very different things. (Dr Thomas E. Woods, Jr., The Church and the Market, Lexington Books, 2005, p 31).”
Dr Luckey replied: “Dr Mueller is a good Catholic, but he is trained in the neo-classical type of economics, which relies heavily on mathematics. In that view, not only is there no ethics but a removal from reality. It even takes the human element out of economics, in favour of what has been called ‘physics envy’.
“I completely agree with Dr Chaufen, Fr Sadowsky and Dr Woods. Economics as a science begins with the action axiom that all men act, and then proceeds to analyse what the generality of people do under various conditions. It tells us what the outcome will be if you do such-and-such under these circumstances. It does not choose the values by which people act or should act.
“Economics does realise that these values are important, but the judgment of the values and the actions proceeding from them is in the domain of another science, ethics. As a human being, and as a Catholic, ethics is very important, but it is not economics.
“The problem with the actions of men is they are conditioned with the moral compass of the people themselves. If folks tend to act unethically in economics, there are economic consequences, such as the lack of trust, but the problem is definitely not in the economic system but in the people themselves.
“Those who believe otherwise, are Rousseauians who place the blame for evil on institutions rather than in the human heart where evil tendencies lurk due to our fallen nature.”
Peter D. Howard,
Isaac Newton remembered
This year marks the 370th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest sons of thinking and discovery in history, Isaac Newton.
Born in a farmhouse in Lincolnshire in 1642, he went on to an illustrious career that has been an inspiration to generation of students. The best remembered story of his life is probably his discovery of the principles of gravity from observing a falling apple — almost a metaphor for the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.
A 25-year-old Newton, not educated in the arts of self-aggrandisement and political manoeuvring, was thrust into a ruthless competitive environment where he encountered the machinations of rival scientists like Robert Hooke who was seeking his own fame from his own discoveries. Hooke had famous run-ins with Newton over which of the pair deserved credit for particular scientific discoveries.
The young philosopher from Cambridge University was warned by the president of the London Royal Society — a small group of scientists — that he needed to be careful. Heinrich Oldenburg, formerly an adviser to Oliver Cromwell who deposed Charles Stuart (Charles I), told Newton that ideas could be “snatched” from him and appropriated by foreigners.
The warning to the young genius was salutary — and is even more relevant for us today when the theft of ideas is large and few seem aware of the extent of industrial espionage that has been going on for years.
Many of the best Australian scientific discoveries and innovations have been lost to overseas manufacturers. However, this fact fails to be fully appreciated by our political leaders.
Tweed Heads, NSW