Monday, August 11, 2008

Global Warming Denial is Dangerous Creationsim

I have noticed huge debates breaking out on a couple of websites over global warming and the truth of it, I have also been spending (far too much) time of late reading about Creationism – the psudo-science idea pushed with a fanatical intensity by religious fundamentalists that the earth and all living things were created by god and thus evolution is not true. What has become increasingly obvious to me is that the denial of global warming and the denial of evolution are pretty much the same thing – a comfort-blanket against reality and so it is pointless debating with advocates of either point of view.

The problem is that while Creationists might mess up the education of school kids thanks to their meddling, Global Warming Denialists may kill millions of people with their need to avoid reality.

First of it is worth saying that both global warming and evolution are hugely complex areas of research where daily, thousands scientists debate, argue and research. However in both of these areas there is a broad consensus of what is happening and the debate is essentially over the details. It is also the case that most of us are not in a position to judge much of the data and need to rely on others to filter and interpret it for us. For this we tend to turn to people who specialise in this area. For understanding how life works we ask biologists and to understand the climate we ask climatologists.

Global Warming is scary thing. Nobody knows what will really happen as our industrial society is conducting a huge experiment right here and right now and the predicted results vary – it could be not so bad or it could be very, very bad. I am sure you have read the news and don't need me to spell it out but worse case scenarios involve the word 'extinct' for a huge number of species – us included. Do we feel lucky?

It is understandable why the Denialist message is so seductive; they are telling us we can have our cake and eat it – and we all like cake. The problem is the facts don't fit the cake-fest they advocate. I am not going to try to prove global warming here – because that is my point – trying to prove anything to a Denialist is like trying to prove evolution to a Creationist: impossible because they will not be separated from their comfort-blanket.

Now there are different types of Creationist but basically they believe in the literal truth of the bible, so if it says God created the world and all living things then he did and so evolution is rubbish. Therefore they MUST disprove evolution to hold onto their faith. But evolution has a massive body of evidence and to cut a long story short – is true. Therefore Creationists must battle reality – this is, and can only ever be – an emotional battle. They cannot ever admit they are wrong, for to do so is to unravel their wall of faith. The more they fight, the more emotional energy they have invested in the battle and so the greater the wall becomes.

When you read into Creationism, it is just nuts – preachers trying to lecture palaeontologists on fossil evidence when they can't even grasp the basics of how the scientific method works. Ham-fisted attempts to fake dinosaur/human footprint models (see image). A joke really.

Despite the fact that there is no controversy over evolution as a whole in science – none at all – the well funded Creationist lobby has achieved huge successes in the PR battle against evolution. This battle exists to satisfy their emotional need, because they have not, nor can ever, win the science battle – because there is way too much evidence against them and none for them. Winning the PR battle does not win the battle for truth. Winning the PR battle messes up the education of school kids as they can change science education policy.

It is the same with Global Warming; it is a younger branch of science than evolution, but still there is almost zero debate within about what is happening and why it is happening. (There is a handful of proper scientists – I count about ten vs thousands who accept it) The Denialists, recruited by the oil industry's careful campaign of disinformation that began over a decade ago have lost the battle for the science but are deep in an emotional bunker, seeing themselves as freedom fighter against the hippies/tree-huggers/veggies/big-government/EU/UN/the left (insert favorite villain here) and for freedom of speech/the right to drive/Clarkson/The Daily Mail (insert valiant cause here). To admit the science even might be a bit right is to hand victory to their hated foes.

The Denialists cannot and will not will the battle in science, and so are fighting a PR battle. Like Creationists, this is an emotional battle – ad not a debate - for in a debate you could present the other side with a killer argument and they would see the logic and evidence and concede. Give a Creationist a dinosaur bone, show a Denialist the melting ice-caps (see image) and they will fold their arms shake their head and continue to argue; even in the face of reality. As the science catches up with them, they will shift the argument and play ever more complex semantic games, they will cry foul and censorship, compare you to the Nazi's/Stalin and more – anything to avoid the reality that the game is up.

But winning the PR battle in the global warming debate is killing people. While people in Bangladesh drown the Denialists turn, not to climatologists to understand why; but to lawyers, PR men, columnists and corporate lobbyists. They prefer business consultants to 'interpret' the data in a more pleasing way. It is an crazy – seeing a debate on Bristol Indymedia were a business consultant's take on weather data is being held on a pedestal above the painstaking research of thousands of climatologists. It is like being persuaded that the guy who sells the scalpels is better qualified to interpret your CAT scans than the brain surgeon. Isaac Asimov said it best: "Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What . . . does the scientist . . . have to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!"

I have no answers of what to do about the Denialists. It is an emotional need they are fulfilling to debate the issue and I would propose leaving them to it, but for the fact that the fog of un-reason they create is clouding others from action. If I thought for one moment there was a real debate to be had, I would happily do so – but there is not. You can't win, not because you are wrong but because they can never admit they are. They hold a different standard of proof to their emotional crutch than they do to reality; as do the Creationists. This 'God of the Gaps' approach where any stumbling of the science results (which is a normal part of research) results in calls for the baby and bathwater to be chucked overboard instantly and yet their psudo-evidence can be sunk over and over and over - and all they will do is shift the argument and play ever more complex semantic games, cry foul and censorship, compare you to the Nazi's/Pol Pot and yell about it being 'conspiracy, a racket and an industry' all the while conveniently forgetting the very real oil industry that really has funded a conspiracy to really create a racket around the issue. And they will go on and on until you get tired on their emotional need to go on and on and interpret your reluctance to keep banging against the brick wall as a victory. It is; a victory over reality. Proof that God planted the dinosaurs to tempt the faithful.

A Bristol University professor and staunch creationist, Stuart Burgess remarked, "There is a case for arguing that Satan has deliberately made modern theoretical physics complicated in order to blind people to the truth of the origins of the universe."

Perhaps the mischievous devil also created Denialists to blind us to the reality of global warming to usher in a second flood as a judgment against the hippies/tree-huggers/veggies/big-government/EU/UN/the left (insert favourite villain here).

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