Saturday, February 28, 2015

No Simple Answers (or questions)

Public Policy Polling recently conducted a survey of Republican voters. Most of the questions were about voters views on and preferences for potential GOP contenders for president in 2016. They also asked additional questions on other supposedly relevant topics including:

Q15 Do you believe in global warming or not?

Q16 Do you believe in evolution or not?

Both of these questions are absurd both in their premise and presumption that they could be answered with a simple yes or no. What does “believing” in global warming or evolution even mean?

If you say you believe in evolution does it mean you accept every aspect of the various evolutionary theories out there? Does it mean that you believe that evolution explains how life originated? There are many gradients and between believing in a literal creationist account that says that God created the world 6,000 years ago and a purely materialist viewpoint that says there is no creator and life emerged spontaneously with no real explanation of why. To try to reduce evolution to something you either believe in or don’t demonstrates both arrogance and an ignorance of science.

The same holds true for global warming. What does “belief” in it mean? That you believe that global temperatures have risen in the last thirty years? That they’re still rising today? That those temperature increases are primarily caused by CO2 emissions? That such increases will lead to catastrophic events that threaten the future of mankind? Do you have to believe that all of these statements are true to “believe” in global warming? Or just one or two?

Again, it’s a bit amusing to see those who profess to be so enamored of science to hold such ill-conceived concepts of what “believing” in it really means.

Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus further explain why trying to take a black and white approach to matters as complex as climate and global warming is not only wrong, but also counter-productive to engagement and debate on them. Climate of Incivility:

But such efforts do violence to climate science, efforts to address global warming, and our civic culture more broadly. Both climate activists and their opponents reduce a sprawling field of scientific inquiry, encompassing atmospheric science, geo-physics, climatology, biology, and economics to a single question of belief.

The shrill climate science debate between "ecofascists" and "deniers," conflates the very basic question of whether climate change is happening with all manner of further scientific and policy questions about which there is no consensus at all, namely how rising global temperatures will be expressed at the local and regional scales at which they impact human societies, what capacity human societies will have to adapt to those impacts, and what our capacities are to reduce emissions at a scale that will much matter to either.

It you want to have a real discussion on evolution and global warming you need to move beyond asking whether people “believe” in them.