"Natural" equals Magic

photo from Purple Phoenix on flickr
Follow the comment thread after virtually any on-line article on climate change, and you will find deniers/skeptics who will claim that the warming we are experiencing is just "natural forces," not caused by humans.  They will often make a statement like, "since it is UNPROVEN that CO2 is a contributor to climate change." or " I believed global warming was occurring not because of mankind's actions but because of the natural rhythms of the planet and our sun."

A friend of mine, in fact, has invoked this same idea to me: that climate change is some sort of natural artifact.  This is the equivalent of saying that what is happening is caused by magic.

The problem with this, of course, is that when you ask what this "natural force" is, they cannot name it.  Sometimes they will claim it's the sun or, more crazily, cosmic rays or something.  But all of the other potential forcings have been dismissed as reasonable scientific explanations for the c. 1.0C rise in temperature that has occurred over the last 100 years or so.  In fact, the most plausible explanation--and the only one that stands up to scrutiny--is that the excess greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, combined with land-use changes, is the culprit.

Here's the magic analogy:

At a magic show, the illusionist saws a lady in half and then restores her.  Amazing!  We know it's not really magic; he didn't actually saw her in half.  After the show, the illusionist shows you and your friend how his assistant has this special space she can hide her body in while he saws the boxes in half.  Because of the way they are constructed, though, the audience is fooled into thinking it's impossible--that there is no space.    Your friend, though, refuses to believe it, because he doesn't want to believe it was so simple.  He continues to claim that the illusionist actually did saw the woman in half and magically restored her.

Cue climate change.  The world is getting warmer and the climate scientists show the people how it is happening.  It's not magic, it's the excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causing the atmosphere and the oceans to hold more heat.  My friend, who claims "natural forces," is the same as the friend in the tale above.  He refuses to believe the plausible explanation and hangs dearly onto the "magic" explanation.

It seems so silly in the story of the magic show.  It's just as silly in the climate change debate.  When someone claims "natural forces" are changing the climate, just substitute the word "magic."

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