12 May 2010

Climate change denial ... let me count the whys

A prestigious group of the world's leading scientists, all members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and representing institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, the University of California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have written an open letter condemning "the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular." The 255 scientists, including 11 Nobel laureates, while emphasizing that "there is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend," decry the "many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, [that] are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence."

My question is what, specifically, drives these "special interests or dogma"? I can offer more than half a dozen possibilities, operating alone and in combination:

1. Greed. Vested interests, such as oil and coal companies, are determined to defend shareholder value, to say nothing of their own financial interest, against what they perceive as a threat.
2. Power. The governments of jurisdictions in which these companies operate are determined to defend their tax bases.
3. Fear. Working people, often thoroughly indoctrinated by the above two groups and their media allies, are afraid that curbing greenhouse gas emissions may cost them their jobs.
4. Ego. Big ideas, such as heliocentricity, natural selection and climate change, diminish humanity, too much so for many people to accept.
5 Ignorance. Many people don't understand how science works. As long as science has not proven absolutely that anthropogenic climate change is occurring, why worry they ask. But, as the letter says, "There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action."
6. Resentment. Some people consider environmentalists to be part of some kind of liberal elite. Who are they to tell us ordinary folk how to live?
7. Contrarianism. This particularly affects media types. Many columnists and radio and TV pundits get paid to be provocative, particularly toward those imagined liberal elites. Science is not deemed to sell newspapers as effectively as controversy.

When other big ideas brought irrational assaults down on scientists, it mattered rather less. What difference did it make if the masses didn't accept heliocentricity or natural selection? Progress persisted regardless. But it matters very much if the masses don's accept climate change. As the scientists' letter puts it, "Society has two choices: we can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively ... delay must not be an option." If the masses don't demand action, the politicians will quite likely delay, and that could mean the end of progress. And worse.

1 comment:

  1. Fundamentalist Christians, of which there are many in Harper's government, believe that the bad storms and rising seas are just the first signs of how near Armageddon is and they also believe they shouldn't interfer with it. They have no intention of doing anything about climate change.