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(The paradox of this post is that it is probably not purely objective)

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.” [Harry Frankfurt]

It seems that people deeply fear that just one gram of pure objectivity could destroy society. Does that mean it is a good thing that objectivity is one of the rarest elements on the planet?

Yet, absent any objectivity one faces the thorny question of consequence. Lets consider that.

One clear symptom of the absence of objectivity is when rhetoric is dominated by unfounded assertions. Take for example the letter in today’s Cape Times from a self proclaimed “lukewarmer” who is a retired geologist (why am I not surprised). The letter professes an objective viewpoint under the title of “Back to the basics in the climate change debate”.

The author begins in a tone of objectivity … “I have noted …” he says, as if standing on a pedestal from where he views a grand landscape with clarity. From there he proceeds with a sequence of emotive and unsubstantiated assertions intended to deny any seriousness about the issue of climate change, adding for good measure a heavy dose of mocking aspersions. For example:

  • “by climate change the alarmists mean catastrophic anthropogenic global warming”
  • “warnings range from none to the extinction of mankind”
  • “it is the catastrophists you hear from, to the virtual exclusion of all other voices”
  • “modelers who crouch over their supercomputers rarely looking outside to see what is happening”
  • “no one knows how the climate works”
  • “their projections have failed to forecast the actual changes in climate”
  • Climate scientists only say what they do because of dependence on government funding

What a load of BS. On and on the letter goes, alternately piling one lie on top of a half truth like a stack of sweet sugar loaded pancakes, mocking science all the way in an attempt to denigrate any credibility about the dangers of climate change, all the while implying scientists are engaged in collective fraud while colluding with a global political conspiracy.

This would be laughable if it were not for how sad it is that someone could be so deluded … and this is someone who claims scientific accreditation for themselves (although NOT in climate science). Not for one moment stopping to ask: if a retired laymen of no special expertise in climate science can so easily see through a supposed deliberate global deception, how could such a global deception could ever arise in the first place?

Some may argue this letter simply reflects the ongoing decline in the Cape Times’ editorial standards (as reflected in such articles as here and here ), but sadly the letter is merely another gish gallop desperately trying to hide evidence of the discomforting alternative.

But enough of such silliness.

I’m not going to deign to respond to the stupidity of such climate change denial with a detailed rebuttal. The evidence is plain for all to see, easily discoverable, rationally documented, and massively defended by an overwhelming and undeniable body of physical evidence.

The real point is the question of consequence. What is the consequence of such BS that implicitly advocates for inaction on climate change?

This raises troubling personal questions. Who is liable? Where does responsibility sit? For we live as if all this has no real consequence. How is it that we live so unmoved by the consequence of our actions?

I guess that on one level the answer is easy; if one was to gauge societal outrage on drugs, adultery, child trafficking, forced prostitution, ISIS, Donald Trump, poverty, etc., etc., then the collective response would likely register with an appropriately furrowed brow and a comment such as “oh, how terrible it all is, we should really do something, and by the way how do you like my new outfit/car/phone?”.

The apathy about climate change is not so different to our collective apathy about a myriad of social ills, some of which cause untold human suffering. We become numb. But dare to ask a person to be more sustainable in their lifestyle, or to vote for a green tax, or suggest there be any real limits on my freedom to do as I choose to do, then you see real outrage. And I stand (partly?) as a co-accused.

 

This year Earth Overshoot day fell on 13th Aug.

 

Tell me: what does it mean to be objective about climate change? Does being objective preclude being an advocate* for a solution (as some scientists would like to claim is their right, a position – I suggest – they would find hard to defend)? What is an individuals responsibility. Who is accountable for the consequence?

 

(*In legal terms and advocate argues a case within the objective frame of justice. There seems to be almost as much shortage of justice as there is a shortage of objectivity, perhaps for the same reasons.)

2 Responses to “Objectivity: the hardest material in the universe”

  1. Kristen

    Hi Bruce
    I have heard you speak about the ethics of climate change before, but this post about objectivity framed it in a new way for me. Particularly when it comes down to advocating a solution. I feel that a society that acts to solve problems once they were realised would make a lot of sense. However I have yet to really think about the objectivity of people in general and in regarding the validity of the problems before them. Perhaps that is where my personal advocacy should start, without assuming that once the problem is recognised people will know to live in the solution.

  2. Alexa

    I really enjoyed reading this post Bruce! Your skillful writing puts any reporter to shame. I don’t have years of experience in the climate change debate, but it is clear to see that the most difficult challenge is to make people see through the popular “BS” and start thinking about the “troubling personal questions” you raised. Climate services and advice should be offered with a complementary slice of humble pie beforehand.