Archives for : August 2013

Do we all deny climate change? pt. 3

Another more nuanced rejection of climate change goes a little like this:
Why should I believe it’s true ?Why should we trust “climate scientists” any more than we can trust “nutrition scientists” who have a different “consensus” on cholesterol every ten years? Scientists tell us that everything we like is carcinogenic and that can’t be true. Scientists tell us that the Earth is billions of years old and that humans have evolved from simpler creatures but the person at the pulpit of my church says that the Bible has the right answer on these issues. And, guess who is going to tell each of us what we have to do to fix this climate “problem”? Scientists and people who think all the answers are found in science.

This is a rejection of the message and the messengers.

I don’t think climate change denialists are stupid and I don’t think they have closed their ears to truth. I think that they apperceive the consequences of NOT denying climate change.

To accept the idea of anthropogenic climate change is to accept the notion that each and every one of us are the agents causing planet wide trauma. Our lives as we are now living them are (at the very least) degrading the world our grandchildren and their children will experience. Most daily activities we undertake as Americans add to our “carbon footprint” and thereby contribute to the unfolding disaster. If we believe in climate change, that belief opens the door for all of us to be more moral than we ever imagined because every action we take will ramify and affect billions of other human beings.

When Congressman Steve King recently remarked that “It (climate change) is not proven, it’s not science. It’s more of a religion than a science,” his subtext says it all. King knows that belief in global warming entails a new morality that will change the moral calculus of everyday living. It feels to him, not incorrectly, like a new religion. This new “religion” is not issuing from a sacred text or the pulpit but from the heart of the secular order from scientists whose values he believes differ from his own.

Denialists do apprehend the moral implications of climate change and I think they are highly sensitive to the political implications. More on that next time.

Do we all deny climate change? pt.2

More on Science & Epistemic Closure
Philosophers can argue about the ontological status of what scientists study; i.e. what is reality? You can’t see a quark any more than you can see a thought. Is one more “real” than the other? I subscribe to Thomas Kuhn’s ontological punt that – roughly rendered – science is the human enterprise that allows us to ask better and better questions of the world we experience. Since Anton van Leeuvenhoek first saw little critters swimming under his microscope, science has asked better and better questions about the microbial world. We have modern medicine as a result.

Science is a social activity. Scientists are humans who understand that it is the synergy of all their collective work that expands our species’ knowledge base. This collective work proceeds because scientists endeavor to abide by (socially constructed) standards of intellectual rigor, transparency and replicability. As a social activity they provide the best example of why human beings hold dominion on this planet; we are social, cooperative beings who, together, create meaning.

I try not to feel morally superior to people who make earlier stops on the epistemological trail, but I place a high value on the social process we call “science” and what it has brought humanity.

I do accept what science is telling us now; we are warming the planet.But I am not sure my own response to this “knowledge” is morally much different than a denialist’s response might be.

More to follow.

Do we all deny climate change? pt. 1

Why do conservative, (and particularly Christian) Republican Americans feel a need to deny climate change? From where does this (to my way of thinking) willful denial of reality spring?

I personally believe that climate change is a big problem but I am not sure my own personal stance differs in any great degree from that of many Americans who are more skeptical than I am.

There are really only a few types of responses to the idea of man-made climate change. Here is one: “It’s not true because God made us in his image and gave us Nature as our realm to rule.” There is sliver of the population that might have a response like this. There are a number of members of Congress who have expressed such views. There is probably no amount of fact-wielding that would change this response.  But, a word here about “epistemic closure”: Julian Sanchez has used the term to describe the fact that many conservatives seem to dwell in a world that is defined by belief systems and that they seem to be impervious to empirical evidence that does not confirm their a priori beliefs. Now, the one thing that most philosophers would agree upon is that none of us sits “on high” and wields the scalpel of Objective Truth. What any of us “knows” is an overdetermined product of our personal, cultural and social experience. Epistemology has its devotees but for most of us it’s a bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion of passageways to infinite regressions (What do you know, how do you know it? Is there a single piece of absolute “knowledge” that does not depend upon another piece of arguably unreliable knowledge or a belief system?) You can think long and hard about theses issues, and you can not think about them. William James’ pragmatic answer gets to the heart of the matter:

The philosopher’s logical tranquility is thus in essence no other than the boors’. They differ only as to the point at which each refuses to let further considerations upset the absoluteness of the data he assumes.

In other words, each of us will find the place of comfort where skepticism stops and confirmation bias takes over.

Whitsitt 11-25-12

Image courtesy of L.J. Whitsitt