Williams errs about climate conclusions
Mr. Walter Williams’s column, “Our fragile planet?” in the December 14 & 15 edition of The Citizen was mostly factual — with one glaring inaccuracy. It was, as usual, well expressed. It was logical — until he drew an illogical conclusion and presented it with multiple logical fallacies.
First, I challenge his assertion that the 1815 eruption of the Tambora volcano “holds the record as the largest known volcanic eruption.” He left off a critical phrase: “in recent history.”
An eruption in what is now Yellowstone Park, some 620,000 years ago, was at least five times greater than the Tambora eruption. The eruptions that created the Deccan Traps (India) during the Cretaceous (some 60—68 million years ago) and those which created the Siberian Traps (northern Russia) some 250—251 million years ago) spread considerably larger amounts of lava than Tambora, although perhaps they were not as violent. There are other examples.
I agree with Mr. Williams that the human race has not yet created any event with the power of some that have occurred naturally.
However, Mr. Williams concludes, “It is the height of arrogance to think that mankind can make significant parametric changes in the earth or can match nature’s destructive forces.”
A “significant parametric change” can be anything Mr. Williams desires. It is an undefined term, and hence cannot be addressed in a fair discussion. It is an example of a logical fallacy, “argument by equivocation”: adding an innocent-seeming modifier to make a statement unassailable.
In the second place, by saying that humankind cannot “match nature’s destructive forces,” he commits the logical fallacy of “argument against the future”: because something has not happened, it never will happen. That humankind hasn’t created destruction on the scale of a major volcanic eruption, doesn’t mean we can’t or won’t, someday.
Finally, he unfairly combines two thoughts into one sentence, asking us to believe that because he has (sort of) demonstrated one, the other must be true.
He says that humankind cannot “match nature’s destructive forces” and implies but does not prove that therefore humankind cannot “make significant ... changes in the earth.” This is also a logical fallacy. I consider it a non-sequitur: reaching a conclusion on the basis of information that is entirely unrelated.
The matter of global climate change — which I believe to be the underlying subject of Mr. Williams’s column — has created division among us. There are facts that are unassailable; there are data, methods, and models that are difficult (but not impossible) to understand; there are conclusions that are debatable.
If we are to reach understanding, that debate needs to be honest. Debate that depends on logical fallacies is, in my opinion, not honest.
Peachtree City, Ga.