Promoting Alternative Energy for the Right Reasons

-By Nancy Salvato

Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich are featured together in a television commercial which focuses on how conservatives and liberals can come together to find solutions for problems caused by climate change. Mr. Gingrich’s explanation for joining this $300 million dollar advertising campaign is to force conservatives into debating liberals about the ways our country should best promote alternative energy sources. This in itself is a fine idea because I don’t know any person who wants our country to continue relying on oil for fuel. Most would agree that cleaner sources of energy are preferable.

While there should be robust debate about how best to pursue alternative energy, I believe this ad is misleading because it presents these two political adversaries as working together to find solutions to the problem of climate change in and of itself, as if there is a scientific consensus that climate change truly poses the problems outlined in Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Speaking of Al Gore, he is the person who is funding this effort and hired the advertising agency known for their caveman and talking lizard/Geico ads to produce these commercials.

Certainly, Gore has become a master of hyperbole in order to draw attention to his cause. While becoming a great promoter, he has done a great disservice to true science. The global warming argument is based on two assumptions. The first is that it’s caused by man and that we can stop it. While we may contribute to global warming, it is difficult to conclude that our activities can substantially affect the changes in temperature. The second assumption is that global warming is inherently bad. We cannot ignore dramatic climate shifts that have occurred in the past and declare that all climate changes are due to human activity and bad.

A true scientific investigation begins with a hypothesis, or assumption. Scientific findings are not based on one. Here’s why.

Have you ever held a ball in front of a dog and moved it up and down and sideways so that the dog moves its head in the same direction? Now, have you ever asked the dog yes and no questions while doing this so that it appears as if the dog is answering yes or no to your question? It would be wrong to believe the dog is really thinking about what you are saying. The dog is simply following your hand. This can be proved because if you asked the dog the same questions without moving your hand, you’ll find that the yes and no movement will stop. You have in effect stopped one variable, moving your hand, in order to determine whether it is your questions or hand movement that influences the dog. This is how scientists try to find out the answers to why some things happen.

Do you know anybody with allergies? Allergies can make people feel like they have a cold or as if they are feeling sick. Sometimes doctors will tell the patient to stop eating certain foods to determine whether the allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose, will stop. This is called isolating the variables that might cause something to happen to determine which one is at work. Some people can’t drink milk, others can’t eat peanuts. If a person stops doing both at the same time, and the symptoms stop, that person cannot be sure which food is causing the allergy because they have not isolated (testing their effect separately) all the variables.

Usually more than one variable must be considered when determining the cause of a situation. Sometimes we can’t know all of the variables. Let’s pretend there are chocolate and vanilla cupcakes at a birthday party. You notice that your friend takes two chocolate cupcakes. Does this mean that your friend loves chocolate more than strawberry flavored cupcakes? Do you have enough information to decide this to be the truth? Of course not, because strawberry wasn’t one of the choices. You might think that your friend likes chocolate more than vanilla. But what if your friend loves chocolate but can’t eat it because it gives him headaches? You don’t have enough information to be sure. Sometimes you cannot know all the variables in a situation.

In science, in order to determine the cause for something to happen, you must isolate all the variables in order to determine their influence on or how they affect what happens. We don’t always know all the variables; therefore, like magic, sometimes things are not all they appear to be.

Kids and adults sometimes assume, or believe, that they are the most important variable in any situation. What if you came home and found your mother blowing her nose and with tears in her eyes. And what if the last time you spoke with her she asked you to put your skateboard away so she wouldn’t trip and fall over it. Glancing around, you notice your skateboard in the middle of the floor. Instantly, you decide that your mom fell down and hurt herself on the skateboard. Before you start apologizing, look around. There is an onion on the counter and mom is cooking dinner. She might have been chopping onions. Often, we jump to the conclusion that we are the cause for something we have absolutely no control over. We could move the skateboard but mom is still going to react to the onion. We cannot change the effect of the onion.

Scientists theorize or hypothesize about what might cause something to happen or about what might change something so that it won’t happen. When scientists theorize, they can never be 100 % certain about what they believe unless they can take into account all the variables. This is why scientists think in percentages. They might say they are 80% sure and leave 20% to the possibility that they may be wrong. They don’t say they know all the answers, but that they know most of them. If scientists say they are 100% sure, or that they are absolutely certain about the cause and effect and ignore variables which might show that they could be wrong, they are practicing junk science. Junk science happens when scientists believe something based on just some of what they see. This is because this is not using the scientific method correctly.

There is no scientific consensus on global warming. And there is no scientific consensus on man being the cause of global warming.

According to a study published by the Heartland Institute, there are 500 scientists with documented doubts about man made global warming. The summary of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),

“…largely ignores the uncertainty in the report and attempts to present the expectation of substantial warming as firmly based science. The summary was published as a separate document, and, it is safe to say that policymakers are unlikely to read anything further.”

In science, the goal of true science is to test hypothesis to reveal supporting or non-supporting evidence for the idea in order to bring us closer to the truth.

I’m disappointed in Newt Gingrich. His motivation may have been genuine but the means does not justify the end. The issue of global warming has everybody’s attention but mostly for the wrong reasons. It is time to correct the misinformation and place this issue into the proper perspective so that our energy is focused not on the distracting shiny thing but on the best ways to become energy independent so we don’t provide petro dollars to terrorist.

Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, ( a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001