Belief, Enlightenment and the Endless Climate Debate

“Who left the toilet lid up?” comes a call from the bathroom.

“It was Tim,” the answer from the lounge room.

I, in the kitchen, listen as the individual shuffles up the hallway and into the dinning room. “Tim, don’t you know it’s bad feng shui to leave the lid open?”

“I never leave the seat up though,” I reply weakly, fully aware of the futility of my answer and already kicking myself on the inside for being, as always, so passive.

“An open lid means money down the drain. Mark my words, keep that lid shut and see how much money you’ll save!”

“Okay,” is the only thing I reply.

How on Earth could an open toilet lid and the flow of my income be related, apart from regular shopping requirements of course?

Yet many people believe this, as with the unluckiness of breaking mirrors and special properties relating to black cats. These same people will agree with me on the absurdity and contradictions inherent in the holy scriptures that we were raised to believe in, but then dictate their daily activities based on cards or the arrangement of a small assortment of the visible stars. Some seem to care more about building and maintaining relationships with people who have passed rather than those living and interacting with them on a daily basis (unless if this is to get messages from “the other side” for those living people).

When arguably one of the richest and most powerful (WMD wielding) nations on Earth, allow mainstream religion to use Hell Houses to torment and scare children into accepting a certain dogmatic lifestyle, or believe that their actions (be it war) are condoned by God or they cannot possibly damage the Earth (environmental degradation) because ancient scripture says as much, you cannot help but see a parallel to the previous toilet lid/income New Age situation above.

Likewise, most might laugh at how the people alive when such scripture was written would cower at the mythical reasoning behind a solar eclipse. However, would as many of us laugh at the fear still present over the “truth” behind water fluoridation or of alien coercion of human activity or the UN-fueled Green World Order behind the “climate change hoax” or the presents of vampires and demons? I could go on in this way with many more examples and would eventually reach a nerve of almost any reader – as either a current or former believer of a “truth”.

My former “truths”

Being a teenager of the 1990’s and a fan of X-files, I remember being a believer of the “alien truth”. Laughable now, I read a bunch of the “truth” books and became quite convinced that we were not alone (and this was not based on anything reasonable like Drakes Equation). I also had a failed suicide attempt at 16 which led me to believe that there must be a reason for my being and I went on a journey of “spiritual enlightenment” in which, over the following six years, I came to understand a fair amount of many of the world’s more popular religions (which probably led to my eventual rejection of all scripture, ironically, I guess). However, I had, on many occasions, practised chakra meditations under the tall plain trees of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

We all have embarrassing stories of this nature.

On global belief

On the twist side, however, there are many millions who are eagerly awaiting Armageddon in one form or another. The same individual to warn me over the toilet lid was very dismissive of climate change when I had discussed it on other occasions – the usual denial arguments (however, not because they were interested in the topic, but, I suspect, all that they had really heard was of this nature) and concluded that the world would take care of itself.

For the vast majority of people, I must conclude that discussion regarding climate change is surprisingly parallel to the above situations. Too quick many start an argument off with, “I believe…”

Yet, belief is ambiguous and misleading. Does one believe because they have read, understood and evaluated the evidence, or because an authority that they trust has convinced them that they should?

In almost all situations in life, the latter case plays an important role. We can never be an expert on all matters and so we must concede on the advice of others. Medical doctors being my most common example. However, they are scientists and as we seem to hear all too often, even a small number of them get it wrong (sometimes intentionally).

Other traditional examples, who probably hold more weight than even doctors, are political / religious leaders. In both cases, there is no guarantee that the advice has any evidence, but for a personal point of view, to back it up. With the special case of religion, one can see the raging debate that has occurred from more than 150yrs following Darwin’s work. This debate is not a scientific one at all – for there are no trained biologists that make a compelling case for creation – yet it has been carrying on for a century and a half!

“I believe that God created the world and all within it over a seven day period, no more than 10,000 years ago.”

“I believe that the process of evolution has led to the current diversity of life through dynamic means, over millions of years.”

In both cases, belief hides a massive difference of basis. The same can be said of the climate change debate.

“I believe that climate change is a hoax, derived to scare us into wasting trillions of dollars – making a few fat cats super rich, while the rest of us slave in poverty under a One World Government.”

“I believe that our emissions of known greenhouse gases is causing a measurable alteration to the chemistry of the atmosphere in such a way that certain bands of longwave radiation (heat) are increasingly being trapped, increasing the global temperature anomaly, thereby leading to a change in climate equilibrium, ice cover and ultimately to the function of ecology within a given location.”

As such, we cannot hope to “win” such a debate when the basis of belief of both sides is fundamentally worlds apart, and by encouraging this debate we are in fact, dooming it to the same fate as the evolution/creationism debate.

As many of us who actively engage in this debate are no doubt aware, many that argue against anthropogenic climate change are now only arguing over the first word: if it’s our fault.

I don’t believe it’s our fault.

This strikes me not as a small victory, but more of denial burrowing itself ever deeper into its argument. This way, regardless of what evidence we provide of a changing climate, it can safely be ignored. You could also argue risk management and statistics – but again it is meaningless to this debate because it doesn’t address the cause. It is an effective way of ignoring much of the most disturbing elements of climate change.

As for the evidence that could be used to demonstrate the human impact; we could talk of long wave radiation absorption changes over time – however, the data is only 30yrs long so far and not significant enough for all; we could talk about atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases – however you will get the climate sensitivity retort (honestly, very few people really have a good understanding of climate sensitivity – especially those who fall back on it in defence) or silliness such as, “our contribution of CO2 in the atmosphere is very small.”

In many ways such a baseless argument is nothing short of pig-ignorance (as my father likes to say) of the scientific basis, but of course, we want to be reasonable and so don’t resort to name calling.

It all comes down to that one special and foggy word; belief.

“I don’t believe the scientific evidence is that strong.”

No doubt they don’t. Do they shiver involuntarily when a mirror is shattered? Maybe, maybe not.

With more than half the human race living in perpetual poverty, it’s clear that modern education (that is, the process of how to think rather than what to think) is something for a privileged few. However, that even in relatively wealthy nations such as the US, UK and here in Australia, cults and religious schools, who teach contrary to the scientific evidence, find a safe house in which to practice and misinform and that we condone the more evangelical religious leaders who worm millions of dollars out of their devout crowd, is a deplorable mark on the mental health of the nation.

In short, I am certain that we are not living in an age beyond enlightenment. As with other similar ages, where the thinking was critical, analytical and reasonable, I fear once again, dogmatic forces have derailed liberal investigation. Nowhere is it more evident than within the US where it seems that the prevailing view is that the country was created as a Christian nation and not the reality; on secular values.

Somewhere along the line, the opener, “I believe…” was never addressed. Belief didn’t get the attention that it deserved as part of the critical training in modern education. Remaining slippery, belief will forever grease the path forward for the evolution/creation debate. Likewise, the climate debate threatens to be as endless – ultimately it will be paralysing. I wonder if there are any justifiable reasons to entertain the climate debate or if, in fact, we need to dig deeper into what is overwhelmingly obvious to be flaw in the critical modern world?

Do we threaten to ignorantly flush life as we know it down the toilet by obsessing over the ramifications to our income by leaving the lid open?

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4 thoughts on “Belief, Enlightenment and the Endless Climate Debate

  1. Remember always that knowledge and logic have never, ever been universal virtues, let alone unchallenged. We might admire the thinkers of the enlightenment, but other people of the time were accusing their neighbours of being witches, just as some do now. When JFK laid down the challenge to America to go to the moon, there were people around who still belonged to the Flat Earth Society.

    We have daylight saving time despite the often expressed belief that it would fade the curtains. We have lots of other laws and rules (fluoridation, health and safety, women’s rights, etc.) which go against commonly held beliefs and age-old practices.

    And that’s where politics comes in. It is up to leaders to make decisions on the basis of the best interests of their societies even if many people do not yet, and may never, understand or agree with them.

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    1. Exactly the point of this post; we have this fundamental view that “belief” is sacred, however the underlying principles of belief are different from person to person. When scientific investigation leads us to conclude that the world works in a way previously unappreciated, you can bet that there will be those who become vocal in demanding that their contrary beliefs remain unchallenged and we must accept it.
      You cannot simultaneously preserve the wonder of Peter Pan’s fairy-dust flight while laying out the physics behind heavier-than-air flight. Fantasy of this nature must step back, into the realms of fairytales as should such nonsense as that John Shimkus highlights in stating the word of God, in Genesis, whereby neither He nor us will ever destroy the Earth. Of course this is nonsense, in a biological sense at the very least.
      Yet ecology is a relatively new branch of science and is still seen politically as an extreme left activity, mixed with the hippies and all things religiously depraved. However, it is simply a tool to better understanding species and inter-species relationships. As it challenges the deeply held view across most cultures that the world was created for our amusement, it faces stiff resistance. It also shatters our ego of our importance and right to resources. In this way, it is as much a blow to religious belief as evolution and matters of environmental degradation face becoming as endless in debate as the evolution/creation debate.
      I think in general, we have an innate fear of the unknown. This fosters both the general need to name and label everything, and also the hunger and passion behind scientific investigation – one paints over ignorance while the other immerses itself within it to shed light on unknown. Some labels have exists for centuries, if not millennia. By exposing light and developing an increasingly coherent understanding of the world, these heavily buttressed labels fall away, producing many uncomfortable feelings in many people and when such labels are tied up with after-life beliefs, it becomes near impossible for most to face.
      In this way, by not teaching people from a young age to critically evaluating information, we continue to allow belief to be a grey area with too much undeserved weight behind it. We still remain within a hopelessly flawed social structure where all sorts of crazy are given as much attention as informed arguments.
      Politically, it’s difficult and I have to disagree with you. In principle, it should work as you put it, however, when you’re voted in and out on the beliefs of the general public (all within a few years), it becomes far more dynamic – especially when environmental issues may take decades or longer to be rectified. Locally, the locks and swimming corridors for fish movement along the MDB is an excellent example of short-term solutions to long-term problems.

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  2. For many, “Belief in belief” is a virtue.

    BTW – lovely article Tim. All of us have made a similar (ahem) journey. I’ve also experienced – and won – struggles with the “black dog”.

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