AGW – Are you tired or emotional?
This is my (more considered) response to an article by Celina Plaza, published recently on the ecoAffect blog here on WordPress, in which it is argued that we should not get so emotional about climate change. Its central premise being that we should separate scientific near-certainties [i.e. that (1) the Earth is warming; (2) we are causing it; and (3) it is causing more frequent extreme weather events] from the value-laden judgement that (4) “it is terrible that” this is happening (emphasis mine).
Although I like the way Celina has used the analogy of domestic arguments to get her point across, with regret, I must disagree. It may be that I am picking on one particular sentence and taking it out of context but, I think scientists now have good reason to argue that climate change is potentially “terrible“. The problem is that the more “alarmist” scientists become the more prone they are to being dismissed as such. However, arguing with “sceptics” is a Herculean task (pick your own analogy – Aegean stables or multi-headed Hydra with amazing regenerative properties, etc). If it were not for this fact – and that people tend to get very emotional when their entire socio-political world view is challenged – I believe we ought to be able to demonstrate that (4) does indeed follow from (1), (2), and (3)…
In the second edition of The Rough Guide to Climate Change, Robert Henson has summarised what he calls the “climate change contrarian” position in the following way:
“The atmosphere may not be warming; but if it is, this is probably due to natural variation; but if it isn’t, the amount of warming is probably not significant; but if it is, the benefits should outweigh the disadvantages; but if they don’t, technology should be able to solve problems as they arise; but if it can’t, we shouldn’t wreck the economy to fix the problem.” (after Henson 2008: 257)
In isolation, this has the appearance of a so-called “straw man” argument. However, not only does Henson admit that no single “contrarian” believes all of these things at any one time (ibid: 258), he then goes on to spend several pages summarising the scientific consensus view that negates each proposition in turn (ibid: 258-66).
Unfortunately, by the time you get to the end, some other objection will be found because, for all the reasons cited by Clive Hamilton in Requiem for a Species, people do not want climate change to be real. Furthermore, despite the fact that China is now the world’s largest economy and biggest polluter, the Communist Party of China (CPC) recognises climate change and/or disruption as an existential threat to its own long-term existence and, therefore, even if only acting in the interests of self-preservation, it is now making strenuous efforts to reduce the intensity of its carbon emissions (i.e. CO2/GDP). As such, I think the CPC does consider climate change to be “terrible“.
Other reasons for taking this view would be that, having got a “sceptic” to accept (1) to (3), I do not see why it should not be possible to get them to accept that CO2 is a pollutant (i.e. it is “bad“); and that what is happening is unprecedented, is causing mass extinctions of other species, and will cause a drastic reduction in the size of the human population Earth can support (which I for one would no hesitation in describing this as “terrible“).
In the final analysis, the reason people are getting so upset (scientists and “sceptics” alike) is that those on both sides have invested so much effort in finding evidence to validate their position and, the closer we get to “the cliff edge” the more uncomfortable the losing party will get. Leon Festinger (1957) described the discomfort people feel when they continue to smoke despite knowing it will probably hasten their own death as “cognitive dissonance“. I think this – along with the challenge to laissez-faire global Capitalism – are the only explanations for high emotions that you need.