Sunday, December 06, 2009

Climate and vested interests

New Scientist has an excellent article that goes point-by-point over the East Anglia emails and explains why they do not indicate a "conspiracy" about climate change.

I'm not a climate scientist and the only way I could possibly know if the planet were warming and by what cause would be to review data collected by scientists and consider their interpretation. I would have to weigh the evidence for and against the hypothesis as best I could and would also have to factor in any motivations by the proponents of the thesis as well as the skeptics.

We have a friend in town who is an environmental professor at the local university. About 10 years ago we had a conversation about global warming (this was before the term climate change, before Al Gore's movie, before all the latest controversy) when I broached the subject. This professor is level-headed with no axe to grind and has no affiliation with corporations or movements related to climate change. He has never published climate related research. He unequivocally stated that he had no doubt, after having reviewed the peer-reviewed articles, that climate change was occurring and it was due to man-made greenhouse gases.

Can it be possible that nefarious influences are promoting a hoax upon the world community about the dangers of climate change? Sure. But it certainly could also be true that opposing
nefarious forces, with much more at stake financially, could be influencing the debate from other camp. Oil, gas and coal interests have an immense amount to lose if carbon emissions become taboo and I would think that they would have a huge motivation to do everything in their considerable power to distort the debate.

Of course, motivation alone does not equate to wrong doing. The fact is that we will know for sure in time if the planet is warming, and we will likely continue to gather data and research about it's causes. Scientists in the field are already convinced about the change and the cause, and slowly the rest of us will gain insight as well.

I would also be quick to add that even George W. Bush, the oilman-turned-president, eventually came to the opinion that not only was the planet warming, but it was via man-made factors. In other words, on this issue there is hardly a photon of difference between his view of anthropogenic climate change and the man who beat him at the polls in 2000.

If indeed anthropogenic climate change is a reality, who is likely to be the last to be convinced? If the data were presented to everyone, which population would be the most likely to deny it? Answer: those whose lifestyle would the most negatively impacted. It's tough to realize that your very way of life runs counter to your long-standing world view.

Jared Diamond in his book Collapse relates story after story of civilizations that denied the step-wise relentless preventable destruction of their habitat which eventually led to their respective demise. What thoughts went through the Easter Island inhabitant's head as he was cutting down the last visible tree for firewood? Did he think some miracle would replenish their forest? Or some new technology would make trees unnecessary? We'll never know because that civilization became extinct shortly after that tree was cut down.

Recently, I joined a discussion on Facebook about the merits (or lack thereof) of the theory of evolution. It all started with a disparaging remark by Christian minister Rick Warren: "It takes a greater leap of faith to believe that nothing created everything." Of course, I took issue with this idiotic swipe at biology's greatest thinker, especially on 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's opus, The Origin of Species. I got the usual evangelical push back, testaments of their faith in their sky wizard, an outpouring of prayers to save my heathen atheist soul and, finally, this masterpiece from a commenter named Pete:

We believe in creation not because of scientific evidence, but because of our faith in Jesus Christ and in His Word the Bible. The Lord Jesus is revealed in the Bible to be the Creator of all things (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:1-3), and He is for Christians the Lord of all and the Head over all things, including science (Acts 10:36, Ephesians 1:22). Jesus said something about science in John 5:45-47, namely this: If we believe in Jesus Christ, then we must believe Moses' writings. What did Moses write about first of all? He wrote about the creation of all things by God. So we judge science by the Bible and not the other way around. "We walk by faith, not by sight." ([2] Corinthians 5:7)

And it hit me. There will always be Petes in the world and no amount of rationality will ever change them. The investment in their world view is unshakable. After 150 years of geologic evidence, fossils, paleontology, genetics, chemistry, etc, that all corroborate the great thesis of Darwin, we still have 45% of the US population who don't accept the science of evolution... that's a big steaming pile of stupid. You could exchange the term "internal combustion engine" for Jesus Christ and "gasoline" for Word of God and pretty much sum up the debate on climate change today. Just as light bulbs went on above the heads of serious scientists in 1859, the fundamentalist Christians and other irrationalists dug in their heels for the fight against evolution; their goal was not to understand the science, but rather to defend their embattled world view. The irrationalists were seasoned in the fight because they had been to battle many times before against the astronomers, the physicists, the navigators, who dared to developed hypotheses that ran counter to their entrenched religious dogma.

Now we are at it again. This time the irrationalists are not necessarily Christian, but the motivations are the same. The leadership-- carbon-based fuel producers, oil, gas and coal industry-- has a vested interest in the status quo just as the Church leaders of yore had a vested interest that was threatened by Galileo's solar system or Darwin's natural selection. The lemmings merely follow.

Our political process is never completely discernible, but to me it's fairly clear that the public will not support any sweeping changes to our lifestyle until there is visible and palpable evidence that our way of life is in danger. That's how we roll. That's why we have been so successful at denying other inevitabilities: the harm of slavery, the idiocy of racial discrimination, the counter-productivity of unnecessary wars, the ongoing foolishness of ignoring the health care crisis, prohibiting gay rights., etc, etc.

Maybe scientists are wrong and climate change is no big deal, but I doubt it. Unlike Darwinism, however, the denial of climate change has the potential of threatening our habitat. Denying evolution merely makes you ignorant; denying climate change could be devastating.

1 comment:

Eric said...

It's an old game, to use the ignorant as a tool of the powerful. They use all their emotions to push them around like the little puppets they are.

Keeping them blind and ignorant.