Tag Archives: reason

Intellectual Bravery

“Nobody’s that good. That’s why we need each other.” – Dr. Barry Bickmore

Anyone can back their own point of view. But real progress comes when you’re able to accept that the things you used to think and do weren’t good enough, that you can do better.

I was struck by this damascene account because not only had Dr. Bickmore accepted that he had been wrong about global warming, but had actually put together a presentation on why. Best of all, he identified the exact info that led him to accept the scientific consensus:

  • Scientific debate about human responsibility for global warming is over.
  • The models used to show changing global temperature are well-supported by a massive variety of evidence.
  • While there is uncertainty, this is normal in science, and global warming is probably higher than the usual estimates.

Beyond the science, though, Bickmore talks personally about how he once managed to avoid the truth. He talks about “me and people like me”, but the fallacies and fallabilities he talks about are human failings, not specific to global warming deniers. Because we all suffer from the tendency to filter information to support our own preconceptions, the ability and courage to change your mind is vital.

Even responsible mainstream media avoid responsibility for reporting the truth through the ideal of ‘neutrality’ or ‘balance’: reporting both sides of the story, even when one side is composed of “truth-challenged individuals”.

On a tangent, possibly more dangerous is the fact that big-R Reality is not limited to two sides – it ramifies in all directions. The media ‘norms’ issues when they claim to present ‘both’ sides. The truth, they imply, lies somewhere in between these two. But nonscientific media deliberately avoid establishing where the truth actually is! Telling two sides of a story implies there are only two sides: no shades of grey, only black and white. Reality is full-spectrum vivid colour (and spilling out beyond the two sides of that spectrum, too, into the invisible!)

Ahem. In the words of Frank Tyger, “Listening to both sides of a story will convince you that there is more to a story than both sides.”

In relation to global warming, for example, the most common prescription is to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade (the 350 parts per million atmospheric CO2 goal). However, not only is that target too high, but we are already producing more emissions than the IPCC allowed for in their ‘worst case scenario’.

The challenge is far-reaching. The International Energy Agency’s latest World Energy Outlook points out that the long lifespan of energy infrastructure means that our existing infrastructure will push us over the 350 ppm limit. Unless we radically change our construction habits by 2017, we will be committed to going above 450 ppm within the next half-century.

By building that unsustainable infrastructure, we are creating a future in which we face a bad choice: either turn the atmosphere into a sweltering greenhouse, or stop using CO2-intensive power stations – wasting the work and resources that went into them. Building sustainable infrastructure now means not having to make stupid choices later. And that requires us to admit that what we’re doing now is really, badly, wrong.


Filed under Climate Change