Environmental Crisis and the burden of proof

Hear! Hear!

This has long been my view.

What really "gets my goat" is when people who know next to nothing about the science involved declare with such confidence that they don't believe in global warming.

Why not?

Well, they read a booklet or saw a TV program that expressed scepticism on the issue
. . . and they were persuaded.

Do they think it worth checking out responses by mainstream scientists to the evidence against the claim that humans play a role in global warming?


Do they even consider agnosticism on the subject given that they seem to believe that the evidence is ambiguous and they presumably know that they themselves are clearly ill-placed to assess it one way or the other?

No. Instead they become convinced sceptics.


It is hard to resist the conclusion that the reason is simply that the sceptical view allows us to live the lifestyle we have always lived and to avoid potentially painful sacrifices. It is a convenient view and the sceptical arguments offered provide us with a justification for what we want to do anyway.

Don't get me wrong. I am NOT claiming that I am a scientist who is able to assess the evidence. I too must depend on a basic grasp of the science and a trust in scientists.

I am also not claiming that the majority view must be right. Perhaps the sceptics are right.

All I am saying is that Mitchell is spot on:

(1) currently the VAST majority of people in a position to understand and assess the evidence do think that humans make a significant contribution to global warming.

(2) given the catastrophic nature of the problem the rational and ethical course is to act to minimize it, even if we are not certain that it is a problem.

Rant over.


Rob Young said…
I'm working on a PhD right now in this general field and I think about this often. I agree and disagree. I agree that if potentially headed for catastrophe, it is wise to change course. But, while I realize the burden of proof is on the skeptic, I think the reason for skepticism is not always to avoid inconvenient changes in lifestyle and behaviors. In my case, I maintain a certain degree of skepticism for two reasons: 1) when someone tries really hard to scare me, my intuition always says "be careful," and 2) the pressure in academia to get funding and publish can possibly give a shaky conclusion lots of momentum. That being said, I still think it's a wise approach to change course. I'm all for clean energy, sustainable design, and local food. I'm just not for panicking. "Do not be afraid."
MAFDAV said…
I don't know how much of our climate change is anthropomorphic. I am not a scientist, nor a theologian. What is ironic is to see your passion on the matter in light of your plea I just read in the first chapter of "All Shall Be Well"(which I completely agree with). I'm not mad about it though. Just as there are and have been many confident universalists there are "many" similarly confident climatological experts who see the greater forces of solar energy, the planet's tilt, the oceans, and even the slightest variations in cloud cover as part of a historically verifiable natural cycle. (Plimer)
Of course I see your point, as well as Mr. Mithchell's, that it is better to be safe than sorry. The problem is that government mandated solutions are usually draconian measures and carry very hefty price tags, which our world economy can ill afford. They also end up ensuring the 3rd world stays that way as far as energy development.
Though I agree with wise use and less consumption, I hesitate to ride with Quixote (Gore) or throw our tax dollars into the wind.
Robin Parry said…

In my post I am not objecting to climatological experts who offer a minority report. All power to them. What I am objecting to is people who clearly do not know the facts nor know how to interpret them taking a strong stance against what is clearly the majority report of experts. My view is that the stance they ought to take as non-experts is one of the following

(a) affirmation of the majority report, on the basis of an argument from authority combined with their own ability to understand something of the force of the arguments offered.

(b) agnosticism in light of the fact that not all experts agree and that they themselves are not competent to assess the debate.

The practical steps to take are indeed difficult but, speaking of the developing world we should also bear in mind that they are, for the most part, those who stand to lose most from global warming.

But I don't have specific and developed views on the best practical steps to take save that it seems obvious that the developed world uses far more resources than it needs and that steps should be taken to reduce those. Government intervention may be less than ideal but the simple fact is that without some level of top-down compulsion an awful lot of people will continue as they are hoping that someone else will make the necessary sacrifices. We see this over and over again. So I fear that we will not be able to avoid some level of compulsion.

Such are my thoughts.
MAFDAV said…

Just received my copy of Reeves, "The Good God" and can't wait to dive in. I am also enjoying the 2nd chapter of ASBW and the presentation of Origen's perspective. Thanks so much for all you do!

Maybe the differences we have on the subject of AGW and what we should do about it are in some part due to where we reside on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. In the U.S., we fear the encroachment of government. It usually takes away our freedom as well as our money. I am all for cultural changes. Changes that turn our hearts toward compassion as well as enviromental sensitivities. Compulsary policies put the camel's nose and his long neck into the tent and usually make things very "stinky".

Many Americans are already making personal changes and many more will. To hear the AGW alarmists preach is like hearing the ET evangelists. Both have the same message. Act now or God (mother nature) will destroy you. Yet I think that as one becomes a Christ follower his thinking is transformed and he acts wisely even in his life style choice. But it is a life long process.

My last word. I promise.
Dave M
Robin Parry said…

Thanks for the kind words.

Yes, I often sense a very different attitude to government in America than elsewhere and I suspect that this does lie as part of the root of the difference. And you are right that I find it hard to "tune in" to American attitudes towards government and tax. That said, the difference is not radically other; it is rather that we are on the same scale but at different places.

It still concerns me that people will set aside the scientific consensus on the grounds that what it says is pessimistic and we don't like being scared. That does not sound like a good reason for setting aside the issue.

I appreciate your irenic tone.

Hope you enjoy Reeves.

Have you read anything by Bjorn Lomborg? He does not challenge the existence of climate change but raises important economic questions about the right response to it; such as whether reversing the effects would actually be justified.
Robin Parry said…

I have not come across him.

I do think that even if we accept the majority report that human activity is accelerating global warming there are still very real and difficult decisions on what the most appropriate response is. And I do not claim answers. My post had a much more limited focus.


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