Thursday, February 3, 2011

The global warming hoax

Republicans don't like science because it often tells them what they don't want to hear. Global warming? Evolution? An Earth that's far older than what your Sunday School teacher told you?

Well, science is based on evidence, not faith. That's why the scientific consensus is the same worldwide, while religious beliefs depend largely on what your parents believed, which varies greatly in different parts of the world, purely for historical reasons.

You may not like reality, but so what? Would you really rather believe a pleasant lie? Well, it's human nature to find it very, very easy to believe what we want to believe. That's why, in fact, we have the scientific method. And that's why it's been so valuable to all of humanity. Once we invented science, we really started advancing as a species.

But most people aren't scientists, or even very knowledgeable about science. If they don't want to believe the scientific consensus, they just won't. They'll call it a hoax or pick some individual "scientist" - and you can always find someone to back up your beliefs, no matter what they are - to believe, instead of the overwhelming consensus.

And then, when winter gets here and it turns cold (as usual), we start hearing, "Well, so much for global warming, huh?" OK, some people are just joking, but certainly not all. You hear it even on Fox "News," whenever there's a cold spell or a series of bad snowstorms on the East Coast. They might as well have "idiot" tattooed on their foreheads.

Why can't we expect educated Americans to understand that global warming doesn't necessarily mean it will be warmer everywhere? It might be colder some places, or drier, or stormier. It doesn't take a brilliant intellect to understand that. And it certainly doesn't take exceptional brilliance to understand the difference between climate and weather!

True, you can't ascribe every storm, every bad winter, every unusual weather pattern to global warming, either. That's not how it works. And that's not how climatologists do it. Really, it isn't.

But given the typical American's ignorance about science, aided and abetted by an equally-ignorant news media - not just deliberate propaganda mills like Fox "News" - that's what all too many of us think. Well, that's the whole point. We are not, most of us, professional climatologists ourselves. We really can't judge the pros and cons of the scientific evidence. If you try to do that, you'll likely just end up picking whatever fits best with your existing biases.

The only smart thing for us laymen is to accept, tentatively - as all science is tentative - the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming. In fact, that's the case with all scientific issues. The consensus may be wrong, but that's not the smart bet. And if it is, scientists will be the first to discover that, and the consensus will change.

Anything else - anything else - is just picking what you want to believe. It's stupid, it really is. One of the greatest inventions in the history of the world has been the scientific method. All of us should understand why that is. Otherwise, like Fox "News" pundits, you might as well go around with "idiot" tattooed on your forehead.

But many of us seem to wear that tattoo as a badge of honor. Intelligence is elitist. Education is elitist. Science is particularly elitist. And the last thing you want to be is elite, right?

So we elect politicians who tell us what we want to hear. Many of them aren't that dumb themselves (some are) - you can tell because they switch positions depending on how the wind blows - but they're sure that their constituents are dumb. And these days, if Democrats say one thing, Republicans are knee-jerk in opposition, no matter what.

I don't want to blame one political party entirely, though. Democrats have been far better than Republicans, but still not good. Way back in the 1970s, with the first Arab oil embargo, we should all have seen the writing on the wall. But instead of focusing our attention and our efforts on a new Manhattan Project, to wean ourselves off oil entirely, we chose an alternate path.

We chose the easier path of short-term greed. Whenever we looked to be getting serious, OPEC just lowered prices a bit (only temporarily, of course). We chose the lazier path of willful ignorance, the "don't worry, be happy" of Ronald Reagan, where tax cuts would magically create a paradise on Earth. We chose the "Rambo" movie fantasy, closing our eyes to the real world, while imagining that we were all-powerful, blessed by God with "American exceptionalism" and destined to lead the world forever and ever, amen.

This is why faith-based thinking is so dangerous. And we're still doing it. If you don't want to believe in global warming, you don't. If you stick your head in the sand, it can't hurt you, right? And those "elitist" scientists must be part of some evil global conspiracy. Ooh, grab the popcorn! I can't wait until Sylvester Stallone or Matt Damon starts kicking some butt!

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