Sunday, July 09, 2017

How Climate Skepticism Turned into Something More Dangerous - by By David Runciman

Doubts about the science are being replaced by doubts about the motives of scientists and their political supporters.  Once this kind of cynicism takes hold, is there any hope for the truth?

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Why else would scientists and left-leaning politicians be agreeing with each other all the time if they weren’t scratching each others’ backs?  Knowledge is easily turned into “elite” knowledge, which is tantamount to privileged snobs telling ordinary people what to think. Trump’s stance reflects the mutual intolerance that now exists between those promoting the scientific consensus and those for whom the consensus is just another political racket.  Trump didn’t create this division.  He is simply exploiting it.

It is tempting for anyone on the scientific side of the divide to want to apportion all the blame to the “alt-facts” crowd, who see elite conspiracies everywhere.  But there is more going on here than dumb politics versus smart science.  The facts are not just the innocent victims of politics. The facts have long been put in the service of politics, which is what fuels the suspicions of those who wish to deny them.  The politicization can cut both ways.

The politics of climate change poses a stark dilemma for anyone wanting to push back against the purveyors of post-truth.  Should they bide their time and trust that the facts will win out in the end?  Or do they use the evidence as weapons in the political fight, in which case they risk confirming the suspicion that they have gone beyond the facts?  It is not just climate scientists who find themselves in this bind.  Economists making the case against Brexit found that the more they insisted on agreement inside the profession about the dangers, the more it was viewed with suspicion from the outside by people who regarded it as a political con.
Not all climate skeptics are part of the “alt-right”.  But everyone in the alt-right is now a climate skeptic.  That’s what makes the politics so toxic.  It means that climate skepticism is being driven out by climate cynicism.  A skeptic questions the evidence for a given claim and asks whether it is believable.  A cynic questions the motives of the people who deploy the evidence, regardless of whether it is believable or not.  Any attempt to defend the facts gets presented as evidence that the facts simply suit the interests of the people peddling them.

Climate change is the defining political issue of our times and not simply because of the risks we run if we get it wrong.  An inadequate response – if we do too little, too late – could inflict untold damage on the habitable environment.  But even before that day comes, the contest over the truth about climate change is doing serious damage to our democracy.

Read more at How Climate Scepticism Turned into Something More Dangerous

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