By Rob Hickey, Simpol supporter and blogger.
Facts Are Stubborn Things1
Kid: My Mommy says smoking kills.
Nick Naylor: Oh, is your Mommy a doctor?
Nick Naylor: A scientific researcher of some kind?
Nick Naylor: Well, then she’s hardly a credible expert, is she?
2005 film, Thank You For Smoking
I am not a climate science expert; hell, I am not any kind of expert. I suppose then that I should just shut up my not-expert mouth and listen to what someone who knows something about something has to say about that thing, especially when all of the people who know something about that something have the same thing to say.
Let me get a bit more specific.
That’s what I do with climate change and I think if more of us did it, we might extend the ability of life to survive on our small planet. This could easily be taken to mean that we should relegate ourselves to be thoughtless morons, fluttering whichever way the demagogic wind blows. The difference here is in where the information is coming from, who is giving it to us and their motivations for doing so. A geologist knows something about rocks, a proctologist knows something about…well, proctology and…well…I guess the picture has been painted. I would prefer not to have a lawyer fixing my car, a mechanic giving me legal advice and – most importantly – a politicized think-tank or lobbying group giving me advice on what is and is not climate science and how to consider the issue.
The sad part is that this is the reality we live in2; fallacious arguments from authority coming from charismatic politicians, free-marketers and business leaders and, to be fair, quite intelligent individuals of all stripes confounding the debate and the public listening to them. Sound skepticism of the issue is healthy and scientific. Unless it can be proven and a consensus arrived at that certain evidence is a basis for such a claim, the debate remains open and uncertain.
But the evidence on climate change has turned the soup of ideas on the subject into a gelatinous mixture and finally a quite solid one, with the arguments of anthropogenic climate change rising to the top and those still denying negative future effects of climate change trying to punch holes in the consensus and feed off of whatever falls through. This is often done through the cherry-picking of specific evidence to support their denial and making claims without considering the totality of evidence.
This brings me back to the quote at the top of this article. Such denial when applied to the tobacco-cancer connection would sound like the ole’ “my-grandfather-smoked-two-packs-of-unfiltered-cigarettes-per-day-and-lived-to-be-100 argument”. Sure, maybe he did, but what does that mean for the other 3 people who never got to see their daughter’s wedding because of a terminal lung cancer? In climate denial speak this sounds like the “we-just-had-the-biggest-snow-storm-in-20-years-what-happened-to-those-global-warming-loons” argument during the same time that global temperature had risen 1 degree over those same 20 years. Similarly, anti-evolutionists claim that since there are holes in the fossil record, evolution stands on weak evidence – conveniently ignoring the fact that evolutionary biologists have many other ways of verifying the evolutionary process and that the fossil record itself does support evolution.
In order to clarify what I am trying to say – as I feel I have not succeeded quite yet – let me put it like this; if you drank too much on Friday night at the local pub and woke up on Saturday afternoon in your house covered in lipstick, wearing a cowboy hat, and with a $200 disorderly conduct citation, having no recollection of the previous night does not mean that the night wasn’t eventful. We can make inferences about what happened. When you get a call from your credit card company that you overdrew your credit limit, like making a fossil discovery or analyzing data on the rate of temperature change over time, we can discern even more about the previous night’s activities. In all likeliness, you were not abducted by aliens and you did not time travel. At least not in the conventional sense.
How in the name of all that is good in the world, does this relate to SIMPOL? Let me bring this post back to earth. The politicization of the climate change issue has shown us that we are not able to discern who or what a reliable source is from what is not. In most cases we take the totality of these sources into consideration and find we are not able to weigh them based on their objectivity and validity because we don’t know how objective and valid they are. This forms and shapes our reality and constricts our conception of what is and is not possible. Global climate change, it seems to me, is one issue around which we can come together. We humans are not, I think, ready to give up our nation-centrism. Such a thing will happen as a gradual process where issues of common concern are passed to the global governance level. It may never happen completely and for me, it is hard to see how it would. But then, I am trapped in the thought-box of my own time. However, increased global cooperation in the environmental realm may be the only way to preserve nations in the long-term and to avoid hypocrisy in the defense of human rights and could thus be an area of global cooperation. If we ignore reality in favor of national ideological viewpoints (and this has particular resonance in the United States) rather than incorporating the need for necessary change into our political views, action will be impossible. At the root level, this requires critical thinking skills and letting go of economic paradigms and conceptions of individual freedom that are no longer valid. In American politics, changing your viewpoint has been referred to as “flip-flopping”, a pejorative term. But in reality flip-flopping is evolutionary thought and it seems bizarre not to change thought patterns when reality changes.
The fact is that changing one’s mind in light of evidence is at the root of the science. I think a more scientifically literate public will bring the world together under a common banner of truth. Listening to the experts is a good start, especially when they all essentially agree. It helps begin a process of overcoming the nation-centeredness that is ingrained in us all. That is what lies at the heart of SIMPOL.
1 Attributed to U.S. politician John Adams.