You’d be mad to support climate change science (so count me in)
In a recent forum debate, a poster suggested I wouldn’t look at science that didn’t agree with my position – that I displayed confirmation bias. I have a standard response to this, which is that I’ll look at anything that isn’t junk science. If it’s credible science, why would I not study it?
The poster who challenged me did so on the basis of how he sees things. To him, this is a debate to win, and because he thinks that’s what I’m here to do, that I have an agenda, it seems obvious to him I’m going to select only that science which supports it (and I have to add that in all likelihood, that’s what he’s doing). This assumption is made because the denialists do have an agenda, and it is largely political. They attack the science, because for them, climate change science is a proxy for socialism, or a token of some movement towards a ‘world government’ that is essentially socialist in nature.
They oppose this, and because the basis for climate change is scientific, they end up attacking the science because they take it as a tool of ideologues. In making this unfortunate conflation, they also project the same motives and concerns on people like me, because if their agenda is to oppose the left, in their eyes I must be another lefty ideologue opposing the right, supporting climate change as a means to my own ideological ends. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, at least in my case.
Thinking about this, I realised there was something strange going on. I don’t have an agenda, so I cannot ‘win’ an argument. I am a messenger for science, and as best I can I try to correct errors when they appear in discussion threads. But as for aim and intent, I don’t have a favoured outcome. Well, actually – I do, but it is the opposite of what one might expect. I want anthropogenic climate change to bugger off. There is nothing on this earth would please me more than for somebody to prove conclusively that we are not responsible for climate change in any way shape or form. Trouble is, nobody can.
My generation were brought up with a sense of duty. Not much of one, but enough to accept the notion of deferred gratification. I – we – worked hard, saved up, did without; we believed we could have our cake, but only after we’d paid for it. Now I’ve paid in full, it turns out the cake is bad for me.
Actually, that isn’t right either. It’s not that the cake will be bad for me. It’s that the cake will be bad for some other bugger, and in the future. If I ignore climate change and carry on as usual, how much difference will it make – to me. Will I personally make climate change substantially worse if I fly to those exotic places I was waiting all my life to visit? I don’t think so. When climate change really kicks in, will my house be any more expensive to heat if I get a BMW and give it a kicking (I love driving)? Things are going to get bad in all likelihood, and I’m not going to alter it much, one way or another. Just a victim of my time.
So there it is: I’m basically fighting for something that stitches me up, will make everything more expensive, will cause great disruption to me personally, lower my standard of living and restrict my choices. I’m fighting for this? What the fuck am I doing? What on earth could compel me to support such a personally regressive agenda – at least when measured in conventional terms.
The answer, to misquote Big Bill, is this: it’s the science, stupid. That’s how compelling I find it, and that’s the measure of it’s quality – assuming I can tell the difference, of course. Fact is, I find the scientific evidence to be so ruthlessly and irritatingly compelling, I end up supporting measures I hate. And all the time I’ve been writing this, I’ve been trying to avoid asking the hard question: why have I adopted a position so detrimental to my life? I’d love to tell you it was because I’m so bloody nice I’m worried about future generations, but actually they can look after themselves, and will. I’d like to say it’s a moral choice, the right thing to do, and get all sanctimonious about it. But the truth is this: I just can’t lie to myself. There is logic in supporting climate change mitigation, because I am otherwise required to ignore it, dismiss it, and probably oppose it, and by doing so I commit a terrible crime against myself: self-deceit.
I cannot be selfish about this. People have shitty lives so I can go shopping and endure joyful confusion because there is so much choice. The idea that their lives will get even worse is simply not acceptable to me. So yes, I am making a sacrifice, but I do it so I can look myself in the mirror and not be secretly disgusted at what I see. That disgust, that turning away, is so corrosive it eats at us all our lives, making us unhappy at a very deep level. I have to be responsible for myself, knowing I can’t be responsible for anyone else. Turns out, this is about duty after all. My duty to myself.