The political misuse of scepticism
Connecting the dots – the story continues…
This is the second of 3 posts re-visiting three points made in the introduction to my MA dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK (as summarised on my About page), which are (1) the philosophical roots of scepticism (yesterday); (2) the political misuse of scepticism (today); and (3) the psychological causes of denial (tomorrow). Here is my summary of the second of these subjects, which is key to understanding and defeating the ideologically-driven and prejudicial denial of all our environmental problems that — as I have now discovered with exquisite timing from Paul Handover’s Learning from Dogs blog — are beautifully summarised in Lester Brown’s latest book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (thanks Paul).
The political misuse of scepticism
When I was a teenager, a favourite put-down of mine and my peers was, “Don’t try to be clever; it doesn’t suit you!” I think a high percentage of bloggers would do well to have this written on the top of their computer screens; or maybe back-to-front on their foreheads: Accusing me of being a communist just because I have not been taken captive by libertarian propaganda is utterly ridiculous; and is no substitute for having a scientific basis for rejecting the reality, reliability, and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
How did we get here?
In 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the German Minister of the Environment is reported to have said… “I am afraid that conservatives in the United States are picking ‘ecologism’ as their new enemy”. (Luke, T. (2000) p.58)
By 1996, Paul and Anne Ehrlich had become so frustrated with this ideological opposition to environmentalism that they wrote: “The time has come to write a book about efforts being made to minimize the seriousness of environmental problems… by a diverse group of individuals and organizations… with differing motives and backgrounds… With strong and appealing messages, they have successfully sowed seeds of doubt among journalists, policy makers, and the public at large about the reality and importance of such phenomena as overpopulation, global climate change, ozone depletion, and losses of biodiversity”. (Ehrlich, P. and Ehrlich, A. (1996) p.1)
In 2008, Peter Jacques et al reported that 92% of the 141 sceptical books published between 1972 and 2005 were authored by someone with direct links to – and/or published by – conservative think tanks. (Jacques, P. et al. (2008) p.349)
In 2009, taking the scientific reality of the greenhouse effect as a given – and reflecting on the observed super-exponential growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations since the industrial revolution – David MacKay posed the following questions to any ambivalent reader: “Does ‘sceptic’ mean ‘a person who has not even glanced at the data’? Don’t you think that, just possibly, something may have happened between 1800AD and 2000AD… that was not part of the natural processes present in the preceding thousand years?”. (MacKay, D. (2009) p.6)
In Environmental Skepticism, Ecology and Public Governance, Peter Jacques summarised the conclusions of his research team as follows: Whereas modern philosophical (Cartesian) sceptics disavow the legitimacy of all scientific knowledge (as being solely provisional) and ancient (Pyrrhonian) sceptics disavow all belief (based on either perception or reasoning), climate sceptics do not disavow either knowledge of belief. Instead they reject the consensus view of AGW as “junk science” or “environmental alarmism” because it represents a fundamental moral challenge to their/our collective failure to decouple environmental degradation from economic growth. (Jacques, P (2009) p.1 and 37)
Therefore, Clive Hamilton sees climate change scepticism as rooted in an ideologically-driven need to find a replacement for the ‘red menace’ (following the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe) – allied to contempt for “liberal intellectuals who had betrayed the Western tradition with a sustained critique of its assumptions and achievements” – which coalesced into their new ‘green scare’. (Hamilton, C. (2010) p.98)
Most recently, in 2010, the publishers of Merchants of Doubt summarised the work of authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway by observing that the US scientific community has “…produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers”.
Tomorrow, I will finish with the third and final link in the chain: Having reviewed the historical roots of scepticism; and reviewed the way in which scepticism has been misappropriated by those with vested interests and/or an ideological predisposition for denying the reality of any or all environmental problems arising from human activity, I will review the way in which this leads them to “downplay, deny or dismiss” any evidence that reveals them to be misguided; what Leon Festinger called “cognitive dissonance”.
Polite Reminder (to the “sceptical”)
Record-breaking rainfall in the UK, unprecedented storms and temperatures in Washington DC, record-breaking droughts, floods, landslides, and bush-fires all around the world… Will the fake sceptics admit they are wrong when we see 1-in-100 year floods every 5 years? Or must we wait until they are an annual feature? Just how much longer must we wait for people to admit they are wrong; and that this is not normal?
“There is none so blind as those who will not see” (Jeremiah 5:21)
People of the world, for God’s sake, please open your eyes!
The world may not be about to end but, are the signs that it is past its best not clear enough to see? This is not random weather; this is what happens when we ignore what scientists have been telling for over 150 years.
Please Connect the Dots!