Tuesday 5 January 2010

it's still what it is

Two articles have already appeared this year that deal with climate change and the imagination.

In the New York Times, the libertarian philosopher Denis Dutton connects the sensationalist tone that predicted disaster over Y2K with the current warnings about climate change and sees a 'morbid fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios'.

In the Guardian the film critic Ryan Gilbey writes that climate change is a godsend for the disaster movie. As a plot device, it provides 'the right blend of terrible plausibility, comforting distance and chastening subtext'.

There are two things going on here that need untangling. One is climate science. That is, the great mass of evidence that tells us what has happened to our climate, what is happening, and what is very likely to happen.

The other is the reaction to climate science. That is entirely different. Some of the reactions are lurid and apocalyptic, even gleeful, and some commentators, understandably enough, see signs in this of a familiar human trait (in Dutton's words, 'our inner demons'). Throughout history there have been doomsayers telling us that the end of the world is nigh.

That may well be the case with some of the current reactions to climate change. There may be plenty of people who find in the climate science a vehicle for expressing their own anxieties or prejudices. In another age, they would have found another vehicle. That's human nature.

But what that doesn't do is invalidate the science. It's quite separate from it. You couldn't say, for instance, that a disease doesn't exist, just because it's been contracted by a hypochondriac.

However much you dislike the doomsayers, and the fevered tone in which they speak, the science is still what it is.

1 comment:

  1. Not to be entirely shameless, but this reminds me that this call that I'm guest editing is open. It's very specifically about the lose of local climate and memory. This line of though might make an excellent submission: