After addressing the U.S. Congress recently the young, courageous Greta Thunberg who was warning us all of the dangers of global warming (which we euphemistically call “climate change”) was asked by one of our feckless leaders “why should we pay any attention to science?” Or words to that effect.
The man then almost certainly left the House, climbed into a taxi and drive to the airport where he boarded an airplane to fly home to hob-nob with his corporate sponsors. I dare to say he saw no contradiction whatever between his question and his behavior. But the fact is that science is all around us and it almost always provides us with the truth of things. Not always, but almost always. And the evidence of global warming and the role humans have played in the drama has gone beyond the level of mere conjecture and is now a virtual certainty.
So the answer to the man’s question (if it deserves an answer) is “because it is giving us a warning and whether or not we want to listen to that warning it would be prudent to do so.” Our situation is not unlike that described by Pascal when he told us that we would all be better off to believe in God than not. In both cases, the chance we might be wrong to believe in science or God results in altered behavior, simply. But if Science is right and if God does exist then we would be wise to believe and act accordingly. In the case of global warming it is a matter of life and death. It may not appear so, but it is and that fact is supported by overwhelming evidence. Evidence that only the most stupid among us can continue to ignore.
As one who taught both logic and the philosophy of science for many years, however, I am fully aware that neither tool will deliver all the goods. Life does not always (seldom?) accord with logic and science cannot tell us about things that are deeply important to us — such as how to live our lives. Or how to resolve a moral dilemma, or how to judge a work of art.
But the denial of science in an age such as ours is not borderline stupid: it crosses the border into insanity. There is a point at which the evidence is so heavy that we cannot bear it even though we must. The changes in our behavior that might make a difference in the rapidly warming globe on which we live are minimal when compared to the alterations in all our behavior that must occur when the consequences of global warming are felt by us all — when, for example, we cannot afford the cost of basic foods in our grocery stores whose shelves are nearly empty because the earth simply cannot produce enough food to support a growing human population.
The problem with blog posts such as this, of course, is that they border on preaching and the congregation listening, or reading, already knows whereof I speak and write. But that doesn’t make it any the less important to continue to shout fire in a burning building, because if things remain as they are at present the building will burn down around us and we shall perish in the aftermath. There is no Plan B.
Hugh, a plain spoken answer could have been as follows:
” Sir, let me ask you a few questions.
– How did you get here?
– Did you hit the light switch?
– Did you eat this morning?
– How did you get to Washington?
Sir, do you think the people who invented the concepts and made the parts and put them together studied science? I think the answer is obvious.”
That would be brilliant, but I dare say it would have fallen on deaf ears!
If I may interject as a person who teaches science – I think part of the problem in disseminating scientific information is the arrogance with which it is shared at times. I tell my students that science does not prove anything, but we would be wise to listen to evidence/data that strongly supports a hypothesis or idea. So, even when there is data to support climate change – if the messenger states everything as fact, it may fall on deaf ears. At least, for me, I will be less likely to listen. This also falls in the category of the inability for people of modern times to engage in civil discourse.
I always welcome your insightful comments.. But I would question your claim that “science does not prove anything.” Constant affirmation amounts to proof — as when apples keep falling on Newton’s head! However, your word of caution is well said: climate change is highly probably but certainly not a proven fact. Unfortunately by the time it is proven it may be too late to do anything about it. Wouldn’t; it be better to err on the side of caution?