Merlin Nichols: For the sake of science, we need climate change clarity, not hysteria

merlinnichols

It would be good to have some clarity. But we don’t have it and given the present social and political environment we are not likely to get it any time soon. Such a rare commodity should be high on the agendas of academics, scientists, politicians, law courts, universities, and us ordinary people who depend on the experts to provide the raw material for our opinions – if not our opinions.

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We have been taught since elementary school that science is based on fact, and that fact is immutable. Find the fact and the truth of the matter follows. We have been taught that those who practice the art of science are a cut above the ordinary folk in their ability to wring a fact or a solution or even a reasonable explanation out of the rubble of antiquity.

The rest of us have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction. Most of us tend to be moved by our gut feelings and not by empirical observations, measurements, and calculations. Effect does not always directly relate to the cause.

Academics, scientists, and politicians are really no different from the rest of humanity. They are just as susceptible to error as we unwashed masses. They filter their observations through the same sieves and view the evidence through the same lenses that the rest of us use: prejudice, greed, envy, competition, opinion, belief, and not a little respect for the one who is paying the bill. Indeed, it is difficult to escape the clutch of humanity even for the sake of science.

Too often the conclusions of what we call scientific investigation are shaped and coloured by these filters and lenses.

Real science is the stuff of observation, measurement, and replication. When we move beyond the scope of observation, measurement, and the ability to replicate we enter the realm of metaphysics, of speculation, of philosophy, and, dare I say, religion. That is where we are today with much of what we call science.

When we muse about the age of the earth, about development of species, about the vast reaches of the cosmos, we are definitely beyond the scope of science and into the realm of philosophy. And that’s OK as long as we recognize the limitations of our musings.

Those pursuing the “hard” sciences candidly admit their limitations as scientists and the limitations of the tools at their disposal. They see their boundaries more clearly than academics in other disciplines.

Frequently, there is a disconcerting gap between the reporting by the researcher in the scientific journals and the story reported to the public through the various media. But it is the media version that gets the public’s attention. It is the media version that captures the imagination of the masses and becomes part of the language of society.

The academics pick up from the scientists those ideas that suit their established opinions and make them popular in undergraduate classes in philosophy, anthropology, and other “soft” sciences. Lawmakers climb on the bandwagon to beat their own drums and if the theme suits the whim of the masses it soon catches fire and becomes almost unstoppable. It is now virtually impossible to introduce a contrary perspective no matter how credible it may be.

Even a cursory reading of the history of science will reveal multiple examples of then-called scientific “discoveries” that captured the imagination of the world for decades and finally were proven to be false – after they had wreaked enormous havoc and pain on humanity.

This is where we are on the issue of climate. Once upon a time, not too many months ago, it was called global warming and the culprit was carbon dioxide, an essential component of all plant life. Green plants absolutely require carbon dioxide for proper growth and the byproduct is pure oxygen, which animals require for life. Remarkable! Incidentally, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently below that required for optimum plant growth.

It seems now that the globe is not warming. In fact, it seems to be cooling.

So, we have renamed the crisis as climate change. We don’t know just how the change is manifesting, but for the time being the culprit still seems to be that pesky carbon dioxide, an absolutely essential component of all green plants.

These days, one cannot turn on national radio without hearing someone wisely invoking climate change as the cause of this or that. Problem: most who invoke the term on-air really could not define it. Some clarity would be refreshing. It could even be motivating.

Having put all these marks on paper, I feel I owe you an explanation: I am really green, quite green, in fact. Proof: our year’s supply of potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, and squash is already thriving in our garden and tomatoes are hanging on the vines. Our 100-metre diet is well on its way!

Oh, by the way, here’s a light-hearted bit of wisdom from 3000 years past (astonishing how perceptive the Ancients): “an empty-headed man will be wise when a wild ass’ colt is born to a man.”

Merlin Nichols is the former mayor of Chetwynd.

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