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in search of eudaimonia…

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Global warming is a phenomenon that is confirmed by an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence, provided by the majority of highly qualified and experienced climate scientists and many climate research institutes. However, it is also a phenomenon that is denied by many people, including politicians and policy-makers in powerful or influential positions. Denied, moreover, in terms that are sometimes vitriolic and vituperative, even threatening. There are many reasons indeed why such denial occurs, and there are many commentators who write very good articles, books and blogs about the phenomenon of climate change denial. But what I have noticed is that sometimes the defenders of the scientific consensus on climate change, myself included, sometimes have to be mindful of the danger of getting too sidetracked by the counter-denying of the deniers. Yes, the incorrect statements and distortions by the deniers of the facts  about climate change need to be publicly pointed out and corrected, and this is a very worthy and essential task, but it is also one that can become all-consuming and even counter-productive if, in the process, those who defend the climate change consensus get ground down psychologically by the sheer effort of it all and, worse, get drawn into making negative attacks upon the deniers, or regarding the deniers as ‘enemies’ to be defeated. The deniers are, in the end, amongst the very people that we, out of compassion and loving-kindness, want to save from the horrifying effects of catastrophic climate change. The fact that they deny what is now so obvious is their right, after all; no one can insist that they must accept what scientists say. If they want to deny the facts, so be it. Indeed, the fact that they often feel the need to deny the facts with such vehemence should increase our compassion for them, not decrease it. The failure to accept empirical reality, even at the cost of one’s own best interests, is always immensely sad and tragic. Indeed, human beings often, perhaps usually, think and act against their own best interests. T.S.Eliot himself said that “human beings cannot bear too much reality”, and the reality of climate change, when it sinks in, is sometimes too hard for me to bear; the urge to just forget about it and think of something more pleasant and more immediately self-satisfying can become very tempting at such times.

But it is precisely at such times that I recall – sometimes – that the reality of climate change is also a supreme opportunity to generate true empathy with others, for thinking about the sufferings of those affected severely by climate change is such a powerful experience that compassion for such people naturally arises, and with that compassion comes  a joyfully positive wish to be able to contribute in any way possible to the alleviation of such suffering and to prevent it happening to others too. It is then that the struggle to mitigate climate change can become a joyful struggle, full of meaning. Absorption in the flow of that struggle can create eudaimonia, something that positive psychology says is an essential constituent of a happy life. Martin Seligman says, in his book,  Authentic Happiness, that “eudaimonia, what I call gratification, is part and parcel of right action. It cannot be derived from bodily pleasure, nor is it a state that can be chemically induced or attained by any shortcuts. It can only be had by activity consonant with noble purpose” (p.112). For me, and I’m sure for many others too, the immersion in the struggle to promote public awareness of climate change and to support the efforts to mitigate it, and adapt to it, is indeed a noble purpose, and potentially gratifying in profound ways. Whether we succeed or fail in the struggle is neither here nor there; the struggle is in itself a source of meaning and happiness, both for ourselves and countless others.

Besides, the reality of climate change impacting right now in the form of extreme weather events around the world, and the clear evidence of climate change accelerating even faster than the IPPC anticipated, because of ever more positive feedbacks kicking in, means that the focus should not be so much on denying the deniers, but more on pressing ahead with efforts to promote and implement the practical measures that can help mitigate climate change now, or can help us adapt to the consequences of climate change that are with us now. The reality is most deniers will not change their point of view no matter how much scientific evidence is placed before them, and any politician or policy-maker who does look  dispassionately at the evidence will have more than enough evidence now on which to come to the decisions that are necessary if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. All that is needed now is the necessary political will and community mobilisation to get on with the job with whatever tools are available. The “fierce urgency of now” that Martin Luther King spoke of is as relevant to the challenge of transitioning to  a zero-carbon society as it is to the challenge of ensuring equal civil rights for all.

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  1. February 5, 2011 at 11:48 am | #1

    Hi Andy,
    Regardless, on your ???? thread you said that “the scientific evidence for such climate change becoming rapidly more severe with every passing year, or month even, is now simply overwhelming, a veritable avalanche of ‘bad news’ “.

    On this thread you say “Global warming is a phenomenon that is confirmed by an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence, provided by a significant number of highly qualified and experienced climate scientists and many climate research institutes. However, it is also a phenomenon that is denied by many people,”. Your first sentence is in my opinion correct but you last is wrong in so far as you migjht be referring to those of us who reject the notion that our continuing use of fossil fuels is leading to catastrophic climate change (CACC). Most of the “deniers” that I speak with have no argument against the slight global warming that we seem to have enjoyed since the “Little Ice Age”.

    You go on to say “There are many reasons indeed why such denial occurs, and there are many commentators who write very good articles, books and blogs about the phenomenon of climate change denial” and from that point on you talk only of “climate change”, with no further mention of “global warming”.

    That is where you and your fellow “disciples” of the CACC doctrine fall flat on your faces. There is no convincing scientific evidence that the small amount of global warming experienced during the past 150 years has contributed in any significant manner to any changes in any of the different global climates. As for our use of fossil fuels being the cause of any significant warming, other than in our homes, offices, etc. – in a word, nonsense (but please don’t ignore that word “significant”.

    Where do you get your opinions from? Are you a scientist? Have you above lay understanding of the processes and drivers of changes to the different global climates? If you have then perhaps you should get on to ecologist Professor Barry Brook, Adelaide University Professor of Climate Change, because he needs your help. Only a couple of years ago he said “There are a lot of uncertainties in science, and it is indeed likely that the current consensus on some points of climate science is wrong, or at least sufficiently uncertain that we don’t know anything much useful about processes or drivers”. Our poor understanding of those climate processes and drivers has not improved significantly since then.

    Professor Brook went on to try and do the IPCC statistics trick of pulling probabilities out of thin air using “expert judgement”. He said “But EVERYTHING? Or even most things? Take 100 lines of evidence, discard 5 of them, and you’re still left with 95 and large risk management problem”. His implication is that we have 95% certainty, or what the IPCC refers to as “extremely likely” (http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch1s1-6.html).

    So come on Andy, please share your expertise with all of us and remove all of those uncertainties that the scientists talk about, then we can all find some eudaimonia.

    Best regards, Pete Ridley

    • andydharma
      February 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm | #2

      Hi Pete, I’m afraid I can’t help you out much with your questions as I see no chance of any meaningful debate here. First off, it does not matter whether or not I am a scientist as there are plenty of scientists who have done all the scientific work necessary on global warming and its link to rapid climate change, and how fossil fuel burning has contributed significantly to global warming; that kind of scientific work is what they are paid to do, on everybody’s behalf. I just read what these scientists conclude and form my view on the basis of their conclusions. That’s good enough for me and good enough for most policy-makers and politicians who accept the scientific consensus on this and contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (their 2007 report is available here, and the Royal Society has a very good general summary of the climate change research, available here). If the way I have formed my view is not good enough for you then I just have to respect your view and we hopefully can agree to differ amicably on this subject and go our separate ways. Until the scientific consensus changes, or radical new research is published that is widely accepted as credible by the scientific community, then I see no reason to change my acceptance of the prevailing scientific consensus that global warming, and the fossil fuel burning that contributes to it, represents a multi-dimensional threat to humanity. It’s not my expertise you need, it is the expertise of the majority of climate scientists, and, of course, it is absolutely your right to evaluate that expertise in any way you see fit. Thanks, anyway, for visiting my blog and posting your comment. It’s always nice to know what people are thinking and how they see my blog.

    • andydharma
      February 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm | #3

      hi Pete, thanks for your comments, but sorry, I don’t agree, and I don’t feel the need to mount a detailed riposte of any of your points. Your view appears to be too tighly held and too outside of the consensus of climate scientists to give me any hope of a debate here. If your view is right, then the whole Intergovernemental Panel on Climate Change is just a waste of time! But the risks of the IPCC being right is just too great for me to ignore, so I, and many others as well, prefer to assume that the IPCC is right and act accordingly. No certainty, of course, that the IPCC is 100% right. There never is absolute certainty or proof in science, but a high probability of rapid climate change due to global warming is enough for me, as it is for most scientists.
      Best wishes, Andy.

  2. February 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm | #4

    Hi again Andy, the “???” thread of yours that I quoted from in my earlier comment was “a positive side to global climate change?”. You also said on that thread that you are ” .. someone who is very pessimistic about the outlook for humanity because of how severe I rate the threat of global climate change. .. “. If you bothered to check up on the recorded history of global climate change and kept an open mind you’d recognise there is no evidence whatsoever that we are experiencing weather events that are any more extreme than have happened before.

    The claim that humans are responsible is pure speculation with no sound scientific foundation. The scaremongers that you pay attention to have other agenda than trying to do Nature’s job of controlling those different climates. They use lay gullibility and laziness to try to persuade us with their propaganda that we are bringing on a climate catastrophe but there are far worse dangers to fear, religious extremism being a major one.

    Keep enjoying your search for eudaimonia but don’t do what many of us do, spend our lives worryng about things that never happen.

    Professor Brook, who I quote above, was (perhaps still is) the chief scientific advisor to the last Australian Government. He is not an expert in the processes and drivers of global climates. He’s a specialist in species extinction. In the article of his that I quoted from he referred to the “large risk management problem” without having any idea whatsoever how to quantify that risk. There’s a risk that a large meteorite could hit us at any time and destroy life on earth but no-one shouts about that. There’s a much much bigger risk of extremists getting their hands on nuclear weapons but I don’t hear many concerns expressed on that score.

    Please, get real and enjoy this wonderful world that we live in and continue to enjoy all of the benefits that humans have made possible through their ingenuity, including the fantastic improvements that they have made to the environment and our access to places of natural beauty. These are pleasures that people living 150 years ago in the developed world couldn’t even dream of and for the present day inhabitants of undeveloped nations still can’t imagine.

    If I am mistaken in thinking that you and your loved ones enjoy using a ‘phone, TV, computer, the Internet, a car, electricity, gas and water available at the turn of a tap or the push of a switch, getting your food and other essentials from a shop, etc. etc. etc. then I sincerely apologise and doff my hat for having the courage of your convictions. But I really don’t expect to be doffing my hat.

    Best regards, Pete Ridley

  3. February 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm | #5

    Hi Andy, if you are not prepared to give consideration to the sceptical argument then you have no understanding of how science works. All that your attitude towards debate tells me is that you are happy to accept whatever you are told if enough people tell you the same story.

    If you had lived 400 years ago you would have accepted scientific consensus about geo-centricity (http://www.catholic.com/library/Galileo_Controversy.asp) and again been totally wrong, along with the majority of scientists.

    Consensus has no place in physical laws, only facts and sound evidence can make a useful contribution. Also, don’t forget that even scientists are only human, with all of the same failings that you, I, the politicians, the power-hungry, etc. have. You can meditate forever but that won’t change.

    Have a happy life.

    Best regards, Pete

  4. andydharma
    February 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm | #6

    You are comparing the scientific consensus of today with the scientific consensus of 400 years ago? Has science not moved on since then, at least a tiny, weeny little bit? At least nobody is going to haul you off to the Inquisition for standing up to today’s scientific consensus like you are doing (thank goodness)!

  5. February 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm | #7

    Whether it was 400 or 4000 years ago, consensus has nothing to do with science. Consensus is agreeing on shared opinions and opinions aren’t science.

    Best regards, Pete

  6. andydharma
    February 6, 2011 at 11:21 pm | #8

    If scientists come to a consensus opinion on what the empirical data is saying and how it can be interpreted, then that, for me, is a entirely legitimate part of the scientific enterprise. And if some scientists wish to break with that consensus because they have a different interpretation of the data, or new data that conflicts with that consensus, then that is also part of what happens in science,sometimes leading to a ‘paradigm shift’ in which an entirely new consensus replaces the old one. Perfectly natural. If scientists that back your point of view want to change the current consensus, then good luck to them. I just think they’ll have a very hard time of it!

  7. November 1, 2012 at 9:14 pm | #9

    No evidence…? So the latest record melting of the ice caps was smoke and mirrors maybe…? And what about this: Australia is searching for a new aircraft landing site for planes supplying its three bases in Antarctica because the current runway is melting.

    http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/6096/australias-antarctic-runway-melting

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