By Graham Cox
The following is a response to an article entitled “Middle Stance Emerges in Debate Over Climate” by Andrew C. Revkin published 1 January 2007 in the New York Times. While there is nothing particularly interesting in its liberal position that always appears in the New York Times, I felt it needed special attention because it shows a clear stance that the liberals are going to take on climate change.
The article tries to suggest that there is a new position coming from the scientific community. It continues by stating that this position is the ‘middle’ position, presumably between those that deny that the entire science community is correct in their analysis that the earth is warming because of human behavior and those radicals that make the absurd claim that we should do something about it. The third way, or ‘middle ground’ position is outlined by Revkin at the beginning of the article:
They agree that accumulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases probably pose a momentous environmental challenge, but say the appropriate response is more akin to buying fire insurance and installing sprinklers and new wiring in an old, irreplaceable house (the home planet) than to fighting a fire already raging.
The New York Times' editorials are the best place for seeing this position in policy. They always try to sell this middle position as the ‘rational’ position, the one backed by science and research. They tout it as the obviously rational middle ground between the two ‘extreme’ positions. The problem with this type of thinking is, of course, that there is no such thing as a rational middle-ground in science.
Science does not exist on a spectrum; there is no radical ends of this spectrum. There is only whether or not you can reject your hypothesis.
Now, it can be argued that scientists are not all robots going about their work but when it comes to science interacting with policy there is no direct path from the facts that the research yields and policy. I wanted to make this clear because it is much confused by the general public around this issue.
‘Middle ground’ is just a phrase that means the political philosophy that is between the two ends of the political spectrum. It does not infer any amount of reason or sensibility in position. The ‘middle ground’ that Revkin is talking about is simply the liberal political position. It is in the middle when describing the political spectrum in two dimensions. It is only ‘middle’ in that it is set between those ideologies that fight for change and those that deny change is happening.
The liberal stance on climate change (and pretty much any other negative outcome of the dominant political system) goes something like this: “Yes, bad things are happening. No, we do not want to do anything to change what we are doing. Therefore, we should buy insurance and invest in areas that can deal with the outcome.”
It amounts to a similar outcome as those that take the denying stance. Since those that deny that we are having an effect will eventually have to deal with the consequences. The step of buying insurance is just what those that are a bit more nervous about the future do. What makes it different is that the ‘deniers’ believe that the market will take care of the problems where as the liberals think that if we understand the problem then we will understand better how the market will work to solve the problem. Both stances are inherently flawed given the fact that the market system is the exact system that is driving us towards the edge of the global-warming cliff.
There is a difference in the philosophical reasons for taking the position but both the deniers and the liberal ‘middle ground’ refuse to accept that the system can be changed. The refusal to accept that the system can or must be changed is a political position and it is not based on facts, reason, or science. Instead it is based in ideology and scientists happen to be the last people one would want to ask about differences or analysis of political ideology.
The problem with scientists being directly involved in policy discussions is that most scientists adhere to the dominant political ideology. Right now that is the liberal ideology. Most scientists do not recognize this and, as such, they think they are making a decision based only on the ‘facts’ and the current ‘realities’. We call this realism or realpolitik and this is embedded within the dominant forms of liberalism.
It might sound great to someone who does not understand politics because realism essentially means not idealistic. However, the only reason that it is not considered idealistic is because it is adhering to the current dominant ideology. To do this means that you are basically rejecting the idea that change should happen. This means that the policy will not suggest change. In turn, this means that change cannot happen.
What are we to take from this?
Well, scientists should just stay out of policy decisions other than to make statements about what the current understanding is. A scientist should point out that their notion of what should happen is only as a single citizen that is part of the masses.
To suggest that a scientist knows the direction that policy should be made and should make it is suggesting that they have done research on policy and this is the decision that the public would make. This is, of-course, incorrect and completely undemocratic.
People generally want things to change so that they minimize the negative effects they have on the environment and thus the aftereffects they have to deal with. We see this in the way that the people are acting and that environment is now on par with health (because people see it as being part of their health) as the number one issue.
We should be enacting policy democratically that enforces limits on exploitation of the environment. Those limits should be found by the scientists in the climate fields to achieve the level of regulation that the people want.
At the moment, to achieve such end means massive reorganization of the way power is produced and production is carried out. This will probably come at a detriment to those that have put profit over the environment and people, and as we have seen in the articles in the NYT, they will reject it. This is the reason that the only real alternatives to driving off the cliff are coming from the left-wing parties and organizations.
For liberal policy makers to take the position that we simply need to react to the consequences of climate change and go against the democratic will of the people, no matter the outcomes, is at the very least apologetic of corporate-power, elitist, dogmatic, and authoritarian. At worst, one could describe it as barbarism.