Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Abortion, Environmentalism, Morality and Public Policy

This week's issue of Cascadia Weekly, a free newspaper distributed in grocery stores and other outlets in the Bellingham WA area, has an article about a forthcoming visit and book reading, by author Kathleen Dean Moore, of her book Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril.

I only just now heard about the book, so I wouldn't presume to be qualified to make any kind of definitive judgment of the merits (or lack thereof) of the book. But the article contained the following thought-provoking quote from Ms. Moore: "Clearly, information is not enough. A piece is largely missing from the public discourse about climate change; namely an affirmation of our moral responsibilities in the world that the scientists describe. No amount of factual information will tell us what we ought to do. For that, we need moral convictions."

I'm all for the idea that people need moral convictions, but I find presumptuous the implied idea that all people with strong moral convictions about global warming will by definition agree with one another about what we should do about it. That idea seems to stem from the debatable idea that disputes about factual aspects of the issue have already been resolved, and that we can now dismiss any arguments to the contrary as "crazy talk" (to use a phrase which seems to be especially popular amongst the progressives at MSNBC, whenever they'd rather engage in subtle ad hominem attacks than in actual refutations of beliefs with which they disagree). I've seen enough evidence, in the form of books seen at major bookstores, to suggest that such is not the case.

Could it be that arguments on behalf of the idea that something needs to be done have failed because people have found the premises on which such arguments are based to be unconvincing? Could it be that it's unreasonable to expect people to be so bowled over by the academic credentials of the people making such arguments that they will willingly ignore the contrary evidence in the form of their own senses and intuitions, as well as the evidence presented to them every day by their local meteorologists? Could it be that a year in which record snowfall paralyzed large areas of the continental United States does not constitute the sort of physical evidence one would expect when seeking confirmation that the global warming alarmists know what they are talking about?

When it comes to the subject of global warming (and more importantly, its causes), the trendiness of the issue seems to have created an atmosphere in which people are often persuaded to join the cause just so that they won't be branded as "out of touch" with their peers. What that has to do with the actual truth about the issue is anyone's guess. Truth is what truth is, and one's desire to be perceived as "hip" ought to be subordinate to one's responsibility to believe things which, first and foremost, are objectively true.

Not all scientists have acquiesced to the dogma currently being promoted by the majority of the scientific community; and lest we automatically reject the opinions of the the dissident minority members of that community solely because they are in the minority, we ought to humbly remember that scientific dissidents have sometimes been vindicated by subsequent discoveries. The so-called experts once believed and taught that the world was flat, and they ridiculed people, such as Christopher Columbus, who dared to think for themselves instead of being intimidated into agreeing with the majority solely for the sake of doing so.

The majority is not always right. So if you want to persuade me that something is true, even though it seems to fly in the face of the kind of evidence which ordinary people can experience with their own senses, you're going to need to show me evidence which is a lot more persuasive than what I've seen so far from the global warming "true believers", especially if I'm being asked to make major changes in lifestyle on the basis of a belief in the truth of a particular premise.

I bring this up, not because I possess enough scientific expertise to be able to know with certainty that one side or the other is factually wrong, but because it seems to suggest to me that there are those who fear genuine debate over those factual issues, and who therefore prefer instead to engage in name calling as a means of effectively silencing dissident voices. Specious argumentation of that nature seems to have become a fact of life when it comes to the subject of global warming, and that in itself helps to explain, in part, why I am suspicious of the motives and agendas of those who claim that the dispute over the facts has been resolved.

Second, even if it's true that we are suffering from unnatural climate changes which can be blamed almost entirely on man-made carbon emissions from transportation and manufacturing (and not on other factors such as bovine flatulence), it's noteworthy that some liberals understand that the facts alone are not enough to automatically cause people to agree with them insofar as their analysis of what we ought to do is concerned. So they invoke "morality" as a means of spurring people to take action in accordance with their agenda. That's not particularly rare. Many of the issues nearest and dearest to the hearts of political liberals are basically matters of morality, although it is in some cases a type of vague squishy brand of New Age morality rarely to be found in the Christian tradition or scriptures.

Why is it OK or even admirable for liberals to impose their morality on others when it comes to issues pertaining to global warming, but evil for conservatives to impose their morality on others when it comes to the subject of abortion? As I see it, this kind of hypocrisy is the very essence of irrationality.

If political liberals and progressives can't even grasp the simple principle that people should practice what they preach, then why should I trust that they are any more rational when it comes to their ability to intelligently debate the merits of arguments which hinge on sophisticated analyses of scientific charts and graphs?

None of this is to say that I oppose efforts to limit carbon emissions or to otherwise take our responsibilities seriously when it comes to stewardship of the earth's natural resources. In fact, I am greatly pleased to learn that Christians (such as Peter Illyn and the members of his group Restoring Eden) are doing their best to remind Christians of their moral responsibilities to take care of God's creation. I don't think that one has to believe in man-made global warming in order to believe that we should do everything to reduce pollution or to reduce American dependence on foreign oil. Both of those needs existed prior to the relatively recent time in history when the phrase "global warming" became part of America's lexicon.

It is not for the sake of protecting the vested interests of the oil companies that I express my reservations about the global warming movement. Rather, it is on account of my aversion to ideological propaganda and intimidation, regardless of whether it comes from the political right or the political left.

My advice: If you genuinely believe that global warming is an objectively real problem, and that users of internal combustion engines are largely to blame for that problem, then by all means, say so (and back that up by actually living as if you actually believe what you claim to believe). But try to show a little civility and courtesy towards people who have reached different conclusions.

No comments: