Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Even if Global Warming isn't as Dire as we Think, Why Keep Doing the Same Old Thing?

As my bicycle, and the rest of my state, rest under a blanket of snow and frigid, heavy winds, the debate over global warming continues in Copenhagen and around the world. It's kind of wacky, being buried in snow and cold and thinking about these issues, but of course, the phrase itself, "global warming," is like any other set of words: it doesn't really catch the full reality.

Here are a few paragraphs from the blog Ecological Buddhism about those infamous e-mails being discussed in some circles that supposedly posed serious doubts about the science behind global warming:

Over the past decade, the gigantic oil corporation Exxon Mobil (among others) has paid millions to organizations and “think tanks” in an attempt to deceive the public about the science behind global climate change. It is no surprise that those same organizations are now doing everything in their power to please their corporate benefactors, by putting together a deceptive “Climategate scandal".

The reality is that emails were criminally hacked from the University of East Anglia in England and searched exhaustively to locate a few "useful" out-of-context comments that could be deployed in a 'black-ops' propaganda exercise. The original comments were contextually distorted beyond recognition, in support of a blizzard of malevolent PR articles, claiming to prove (or just assuming) that climate scientists have "fudged the data" on global warming.

One thing I keep thinking about all of this is that, in Buddhism, we're taught to see through the stories we have about solid, fixed identities, especially our own. Given that, I cannot help but see through the narrative that the current economic model driving so much of this destructive action around the planet has to also be seen as not not fixed, not final, and definitely not a permanent "best we can do." Even if some of the dire predictions about our climate aren't accurate, it seems foolish to me to just keep on trucking in the same direction, focused on an economic growth, consumption, and materialism that supposedly makes our lives better and more fulfilled. When I look around, I see a hell of a lot of misery despite the material abundance. And certainly, it seems that the fabulously wealthy, those many of us have a deep envy of, and consciously or unconsciously pattern our lives around, are just as likely to be living in scandalous, "my life is a disaster" type ways than in ways that anyone would aspire to. Simply put, the end goals of the dominant global economic system don't seem to worth destroying the planet over, even if that destruction takes longer than we think it will.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

Ultimately it is impossible to know what was in the minds of the scientists that wrote those emails. Nevertheless there seems to be a strong compulsion to take a position with regard to their accuracy and attach to it in ways that make us feel we are "right" and justified in our beliefs. I see this as true on either side of the aisle; and also see it applying in a lot of different kinds of political situations. In politics, there is a gray mixture of good and evil on both sides, sort of like the gray mixture of good and evil in our own minds.

With regard to science, I do know something about running simulation models for a living; since I did that for about ten years. I have heard science described as "blood sport", and while perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, there is a lot of political and economic pressure to come out with the "right" answer. So I don't have faith in the products of models in general, and fuzzy science like climate models in particular. Models say what the employer or government that writes the check wants them to say. Period. If they don't, the scientist running the model will be out of a job. Think about it.

You may not remember the 1970's, when the scientific models said an ice age was coming. It was all over the covers of magazines like TIME. Well, apparently that didn't occur; so now the politicians are tying something new. We have a new story. We have change.

I would very much like to see some real technological innovation come out of this, and I hope we can find ways to do that. I agree with you that present policy is not working. The present policy was created via politics, not science or innovation. I have not seen anything on the table that will provide incentives for new technologies or real improvement. Inventions do not happen because the public feels they deserve them. They are the result of effort and investment. If effort and investment are not rewarded, you will not see real change. I am not much of a believer in simply changing the political story line for the sake of faux change. I would like have some sense that changes we make will actually help create innovations and solutions.

So my question to you is: Can we do something better than changing the story?

spldbch said...

You're right. Even if we don't exactly how much damage we're doing to our planet we do know that many of the things we are doing are harmful to the earth. Why isn't that enough to want to change things?

Nathan said...


I agree that there are politics on both sides of the issue. Nothing is without a political dimension, and never will be. In some ways, it doesn't matter to me if the models are accurate or not. The way I see it, the falacy of viewing ourselves as seperate is so obvious when it comes to our relationships to/with the planet, and that sense of separation is killing us and the planet, even if in a vastly different way from what the climate change models are saying.

Science and technology also, in my opinion, will never be a complete solution to planetary-level issues; as long the majority of people believe they are somehow above the rest of the species on earth, and view the planet as primary an object to use and exploit into order to fulfill their various desires and fantasies, we'll just go on in a similar troubled fashion.

So, the way I see it, there needs to both an internal revolution of consciousness (i.e. a more collective awareness of our non-separate nature), as well as technology changes, and major lifestyle changes.

That's a short, not very detailed answer to your question.


Algernon said...

This post dovetails with the previous one about storymaking. When we are wrapped up in a storyline that we prefer, a story that leans toward a desire, the human being can display an impressive ability to ignore facts and reality.

40% of the entire north polar ice cap is gone, for one thing. There is ample, material evidence for what is happening.

Darkly amusing is the double-standard. These selected emails from a single research facility are supposed to be a hot controversy, but the phenomenon of corporate-hired scientists tailoring opinions for their patrons is not?