The so-called climate debate has often made use of metaphors relating to conflict. The ‘battle’ to convince people of the problems, the ‘war’ against scepticism. The oppositional stance, confrontation between ‘sides’ in a ‘battle’ for the future, for the planet, whatever, is also familiar in environmental discussions, too.
But who are we fighting? Who is the ‘enemy’?
Many sceptics want the war to be between ‘them’ and ‘us’; between conservative, morally ‘proper’ preservers of the American Way, and suspect scientists and leftists and government bullies, who are trying to destroy the fabric of civilisation by taking away the hard-won liberties of ‘the people’.
Many environmentalists want the war to be between ‘them’ and ‘us’ too, ‘them’ in this case being morally suspect, self-centred, inconsiderate, polluting, individuals, organisations and nations. On occasions, the ‘war’ is presented as being fought against the source of these perceived moral failings, ‘Capitalism’.
For these groups, in particular, those at the more extreme ends of the issue, this kind of polarisation works very well. In some cases, the politicisation fits well into ‘right’ and ‘left’ pigeonholes, leaving both sides with the tools of polemic, moral indignation and an attitude to the perceived ills of the world which can tie easily into the existing prejudices of their particular congregations.
But where does it leave the majority? Where do scientists fit into this polarising approach? The public seems well able to discern that neither of the extreme ends of the spectrum is being entirely honest – they generally recognise propaganda when they see it – but also often views issues relating to climate change as belonging by necessity to one ‘side’ or the other.
To take the analogy of a ‘war’ a bit further, what ‘sides’ are there? In fact, as in almost all intellectual/theoretical ‘wars’, the two sides are Reason and Unreason.
Climate scientists are often picked on from both ends of the argument; Mike Hulme, Tyndall Centre director, pointed out in his op-ed for the BBC that he is often berated violently by people in his audiences who want him to promote the idea of a coming apocalypse. Almost any scientist with a blog knows about the sniping by sceptics which goes on almost constantly. So climate science is ‘the enemy’ of others with their own agendas to push. So, what to do? Should the climatologist take the diplomatic approach, try to reach a peaceful solution through reasonable discussion and negotiation, or should she take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them? (Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare).
If ‘our’ side is the side of Reason, then we must use the weapons of reason. To do what? To wave in the air and say, ‘look, I know know how to use this..’, or to take careful aim and bring down the sniper in the trees?
Whether the scientist likes it or not, he is a combatant in a war against Unreason. When he donned his white coat, he adopted a uniform which marked him out as being on a certain side. His enemies are all about him. Does he hide, negotiate, or fight?
Now, consider the nature of the enemy. Characteristically fanatical, dedicated to a cause, willing to use any means to achieve an objective and justify it by the ends. Is the enemy amenable to Reason? Is the enemy going to negotiate? Do I need to give an answer?
If a sceptic or environmental ‘dramatist’ chooses to comment on a blog or website, that person has already taken aim and fired. Put up a shield, or return fire? Defend, surround, bypass, or counter-attack? Maybe it depends on the context. Maybe, on principle, one could shoot first and ask questions later. The response helps define the nature of the exchange.
Next time, there will be an opportunity to discuss strategy. Before then, read the first thirty pages of Sun Tzu, or Musashi’s ‘Book of Five Rings’.