Is the end of the world nigh?
- Few including Bush and Esso are contesting that climate change is not
The debate is about whether it is being caused by human action or part of an
inevitable cyclic process.
If it's the first, those actions that contribute are morally reprehensible
if continued. If the process is happening anyway regardless of any human
contribution, then we have to take active steps to adapt to those changes,
but nothing we have been doing can be blamed on "us" as causing the original
problem. You can see the populist attractiveness of the latter argument -
because it has the punters at the barricades together against an "enemy
without." The trouble with the position emerging from the IGPCC (see below)
is that it pits humans against humans - with "your" feckless use of energy
drowning "my" village.
The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change consensus leans to
the view that climate change, which includes global warming (itself a
complex idea) but also aberrant weather patterns that could include greater
cold and glaciation are is being caused by human action. I mention this
because an elementary rebuttal of "global warming" can sometimes come in the
form of a reference to somewhere that has experienced exceptionally intense
cold weather. To grasp the nature of the consensus you have to do a lot of
reading. There is, as you note, no one authority on truth, let alone one web
page that contains it - how ever much politicians would like us to imbibe
reality in such a format.
Wise educators have been teaching us for 1000s of years that truth is
approximated through hard work and discipline. How do you combine the
responsibilities of the "vita activa" with the "vita contempliva" (excuse my
Latin) required to take intelligent action? (Familiar subject for
To get involved in studying the arguments about global climate change you do
need to respect the scientific process where interpretations of data are not
versions of reality purveyed by journalism and in public debate among
politicians. Thus there's no such thing as certainty
in science only a best working hypothesis to explain the available data,
with varying orders of likelihood attached to that view of what is
happening. (Sorry for the science lesson if you are well acquainted with
You can see the tension here between a parent who wants to know if
their child should eat beef in school and the scientists being interrogated
by a politician, who must face the public meeting of parents, on the nature
of the link between Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Bovine Spongiform
Encephalopathy. The parent quite rightly wants to know "Is it safe?" "Can I
feed beefburgers to my children or not?". The scientific advisor to the
politician needs to run
through the complexity of the case for the BSE-CJD connection which can be
frustrating for the politician about to face a noisy meeting who wants the
scientist - fer goodness sake - to get to the bottom line.
In science there is no bottom line in the form desired by people who have to
decide the "to do or
not to do" question in concrete terms. See where this ended up for the
British Tory politician who fed his daughter a burger on camera to make his
view of the position clear. John Gummer is now popularly regarded as being
"wrong", but at the time he so was sure from the evidence he'd heard that
there was no BSE-CJD linkage that
he made the very public gesture of feeding the so-called risky product to
daughter at a public photo-call. He needed to make a point the scientist
doesn't have to and
indeed, as a scientist, cannot. His daughter by the way is fine but ....
Another example of this, eloquently replayed in documentary, was the tension
between managers, professionals (scientists) and politicians prior to the
decision to launch Challenger.
In the end the immediacy of Global climate change is a judgement call
drawing on all our resources of experience, intelligence and conscience.
This is why journalists - in our name - are wont to interfere in private
lives to find out how interpreters of science act out their knowledge of the
issues in private life especially in the way they treat their own family.
May be you should find out where the rich are buying up property these days.
My academic work involves research into the relationship between the
polarised adversarial and often black and white world of democratic
political discourse and the many shades of grey with which "truth" is
explored among scientific researchers. There are tensions between these
areas of activity that goes to the heart of our civilisation. I have great
respect for those politicians and journalists, and also scientists, who can
communicate scientific understanding without degrading it, but I also value
the scientific mentality and discipline that refuses to get drawn into
thinking about the world in ways that so simplify the dynamics of global
climate change as to end us purveying lies. Given the urgency of this
business you can understand why people can get impatient with the latter
Look this up ands study it on: http://www.ipcc.ch/
On oil supply issues try: http://dieoff.org/page85.htm
You've probably seen all these. No-one seems to be saying there isn't a
problem. The issue is its scale and urgency. The sun is due to disappear in
several billion or is it million years? Is that a problem? Arguments about
what should be done are contingent on whether climate change is caused by
human action and whether "we" (that most political of pronouns) now share a
clear and present danger. See how easy it is to get bogged down in words and
debate about definitions and why sometimes it is attractive to plunge into
the politics of a solution. (Like taking to cycling!)
As the classical Greek cities began to fail as a focus of communally defined
order several 1000 years ago (nothing in geological time) there grew up
among the chattering classes several strands of individualised reaction,
encouraged by different exemplars, to the apprehensions of the times -
scepticism, dogmatism, hedonism, stoicism and apatheia among them. People
could take their choice or mix and match. It is interesting that some of the
advocates of these views of life also believed strongly in the importance of
public engagement and the term "idiot" has its origin as a definition of
people who refuse to shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship.
Beware of the enormous credulity of the population but never underestimate
their capacity for change or the innate intelligence of our species. Abraham
Lincoln put this far more eloquently - "You can fool some of the people all
of the time ... etc."