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Climate of denial


A few thoughts prompted by this terrifying article the latest IPCC report on climate change:

(1) About fifteen years ago, I had a long conversation with one of the most famous judges in the United States.  The conversation wasn’t on the record, so I can’t reveal his name, but what I remember most clearly about it was his absolute insistence that “global warming” was an outright hoax — the product of a liberal conspiracy to further radical ecological goals.

This was an extremely intelligent, very widely read man.  But his intellectual priors were such that the claim that three centuries of treating the Earth’s atmosphere as a garbage dump for the waste products of the industrial revolution would soon have catastrophic effects was exactly the kind of hypothesis he was simply unwilling to consider.

(2) The flip side of the above is that the climate change catastrophe is exactly the kind of thing leftist critics of capitalism would expect to happen eventually.

Of course the intellectual inclinations of both right wing and left wing observers should be irrelevant to actual science, but science can never be conducted without being affected in various ways by politics and ideology. This sociological fact is the sort of thing that is seized on by climate change denialists when they claim that “the science isn’t settled” (A phrase just parroted by the president of Dumbfuckistan, although I doubt he himself could spell sociological, let alone define it).

But science is never “settled” — an empirical practice is always in flux, and always deals in probabilities, not certainties.  The very inevitability of that fact is why it should have zero pragmatic significance: you make decisions on the basis of the always imperfect information available now, instead of waiting for some always imaginary future time, when “the debate” will supposedly be settled.

(3) Speaking of pragmatism, I wonder if it has made any difference at the margin, in regard to doing something about global warming, that the United States is almost the only country in the world that continues to use the Fahrenheit temperature scale? (The other exceptions are the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and Liberia).  The cumbersome need to translate between two scales when discussing the issue in this country might, I imagine, be some sort of additional psychological trigger to the denialist tendencies of the sort of people who don’t believe in science, expertise, the legitimate needs or perhaps even the existence of foreign countries etc.

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