Thursday, December 15, 2011

Climate denial marches on

Gene Lyons takes on Republican climate denial in his 12/14/2011 column, Why do people still deny climate change? Salon. He summarizes the sad state of the politics of climate change in the US:

In GOP circles, it’s considered sensible to warn against the grave threat of Shariah law being imposed in Oklahoma, but weeks on end of rainless 110 degree afternoons, not so much. Democrats like President Obama appear to have concluded that global warming is like gun control, where reasoned self-interest has little chance against well-organized fanaticism. So why bother?
He links to an October 2010 paper by Clive Hamilton, Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change, which discusses the mass basis for climate denialism. Climate denialism hasn't spontaneously arisen from some general conceptual bias, of course. It has been heavily promoted by the energy industry, including the Koch brothers, following on the model used by the tobacco industry for years to constantly dispute the established science and medical knowledge on smoking.

Hamilton notes that the concept of peer review of scientific papers goes back to the British Royal Society: "Since the founding of modern science, matters of fact have been established through the common assent of those qualified to judge under rules laid down in the 17th century by the Royal Society."

He also ends by noting that the global climate change crisis dramatically emphasizes how problematic the sharp distinction people have traditionally drawn between Humanity and Nature is:

Developments in climate science have revealed a natural world so influenced by human activity that the epistemological division between nature and society can no longer be maintained. When global warming triggers feedback effects, such as melting permafrost and declining albedo from ice-melt, will we be seeing nature at work or human intervention? The mingling of the natural and the human has philosophical as well as practical significance, because the “object” has been contaminated by the “subject”.

Climate denial can be understood as a last-ditch attempt to re-impose the Enlightenment’s allocation of humans and Nature to two distinct realms, as if the purification of climate science could render Nature once again natural, as if taking politics out of science can take humans out of Nature. The irony is that it was Enlightenment science itself, in the rules laid down by the Royal Society, that objectified the natural world, putting it on the rack, in Bacon’s grisly metaphor, in order to extract its secrets. We came to believe we could keep Nature at arms-length, but have now discovered, through the exertions of climate science, something pre-moderns took for granted, that Nature is always too close for comfort.
Or, as The X-Files' Fox Mulder put it more colloquially, you should always respect Nature, because Nature has no respect for you!

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