Once upon a time, six old blind men lived in a village in India. Because they could not see the world for themselves, they had to imagine many of its wonders and listened carefully to the stories told by travelers to learn what they could about life outside the village.
While the men were curious about the stories they heard, what intrigued them the most, were elephants and they argued incessantly about the giants beasts. “An elephant must be a powerful giant,” claimed one of them. He had heard stories about elephants being used to clear forests and build roads.
“No, you must be wrong,” argued the second blind man. “An elephant must be graceful and gentle if the Rajah’s daughter rides on its back.”
“You’re both wrong! I have heard that an elephant can pierce a man’s heart with its terrible horn,” said the third blind man.
“Please,” said the fourth blind man. “You are all mistaken. An elephant is nothing more than a large sort of cow. You know how people exaggerate.”
“I am sure that an elephant is something magical,” said the fifth blind man. “That would explain why the Rajah’s daughter can travel safely throughout the kingdom.”
“I don’t believe elephants exist at all,” declared the sixth blind man. “I think we are the victims of a cruel joke.”
Finally, after listening to the bickering a young boy decided to lead the six blind men to see the great Rajah’s own elephant. When the blind men reached the Rajah’s palace each stepped forward to touch the creature that was the subject of so many arguments.
The first blind man reached out and touched the side of the huge animal and exclaimed. “An elephant is smooth and solid like a wall!” he declared. “It must be very powerful.”
The second blind man put his hand on the elephant’s limber trunk. “An elephant is like a giant snake,” he announced.
The third blind man felt the elephant’s pointed tusk. “I was right,” he decided. “This creature is as sharp and deadly as a spear.”
The fourth blind man touched one of the elephant’s four legs. “What we have here,” he said, “is an extremely large cow.”
The fifth blind man felt the elephant’s giant ear. “I believe an elephant is like a huge fan or maybe a magic carpet that can fly over mountains and treetops,” he said.
The sixth blind man gave a tug on the elephant’s coarse tail. “Why, this is nothing more than a piece of old rope. Dangerous, indeed,” he scoffed.
After each had made his comment, they began to talk about the elephant.
“An elephant is like a wall,” said the first blind man. “Surely we can finally agree on that.”
“A wall? An elephant is a giant snake!” answered the second blind man.
“It’s a spear, I tell you,” insisted the third blind man.
“I’m certain it’s a giant cow,” said the fourth blind man.
“Magic carpet. There’s no doubt,” said the fifth blind man.
“Don’t you see?” pleaded the sixth blind man. “Someone used a rope to trick us.”
Their argument continued and their shouts grew louder and louder.
“Wall!” “Snake!” “Spear!” “Cow!” “Carpet!” “Rope!”
Then suddenly an angry voice was heard to say, “Stop shouting!” It was the Rajah himself who was awakened from his daily nap by the noisy argument. “How can each of you be so certain you are right?” asked the ruler.
The six blind men considered the question and knowing the Rajah to be a very wise man, they decided to say nothing at all.
“The elephant is a very large animal,” said the Rajah kindly. “Each man touched only one part. Perhaps if you put the parts together, you will see the truth. Now, let me finish my nap in peace.”
When the Rajah left, the six men rested quietly in the shade, thinking about the Rajah’s advice.
“He is right,” said the first blind man. “To learn the truth, we must put all the parts together. Let’s discuss this on the journey home.”
So, why am I re-telling a story that’s already been told thousands of times? Because it’s a great analogy for the climate debate. Climate is an extremely complex interdisciplinary subject touching on a variety of scientific disciplines, i.e., astronomy, biology, botany, cosmology, economics, chemistry, geology, history, oceanography, paleontology, physics, forecasting, and statistics among other disciplines. And that’s before we even address the fundamental uncertainties that continually arise due to insufficient observational evidence, disagreements over how to interpret data, and discrepancies in setting parameters of climate models to name just three.
~ No one talks about the BIG picture ~
When an expert in one field, say physics, presents an estimate of the climate’s sensitivity to rising carbon dioxide levels, an expert in another field, say biology, might challenge his understanding of the carbon cycle whereby huge volumes of carbon dioxide are added to or removed from the atmosphere; and unless the physicist is intimately familiar with the impact of rising levels of CO2 on photosynthesis, plant growth, and carbon sequestration he or she is likely to miss the bigger picture and will probably be wrong in his or her conclusions.
But the biologist will also miss the big picture if he or she doesn’t understand the transfer of energy in the upper atmosphere or how the effects of carbon dioxide change logarithmically versus exponentially as its concentration increases. Meanwhile, geologists who view time in terms of eons and ages are fully aware that huge fluctuations in global temperatures have occurred when carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature have moved in opposite directions and will scoff at the physicists and botanists who express concern over minute increases in carbon dioxide concentrations of ten parts per million or a half-degree centigrade.
The climate change debate resembles the tale of the six blind men, i.e., each knows a little, but none see the whole, but most distressing is there’s not a wise “Rajah” to bring a modicum of common sense to the matter. And when politicians are more concerned with agendas than understanding science, the result is what we see today—a haphazard and uncoordinated waste of human and natural resources on the most colossal of scales.
Quote of the day: “97% of scientists agree with whomever is funding them – Unknown.