We will no longer debate those who deny that human-caused climate change is real.
Why not? Because it would seem that disbelief in Anthropogenic Global Warming is a “fringe view” beneath discussing:
Fringe voices will protest about “free speech”. No one should prevent them from expressing their views, whether held cynically or misguidedly. However, no one is obliged to provide them with a platform, much less to appear alongside them to give the misleading impression that there is something substantive to debate. When there is an article on smoking, newspapers and broadcasters no longer include lobbyists claiming there are no links to cancer. When there’s a round-the-world yacht race we don’t hear flat-earthers given airtime: “This is madness; they’ll sail off the edge!”
They’re saying: If you have a “fringe view”, you’re perfectly entitled to it, but we don’t have to listen to you.
What is a “fringe view”? I think any new idea always starts life on the fringe of society. It might be one single person’s idea. But if it attracts interest and agreement, it will become less of a fringe idea. And if more or less everybody comes to agree with it, it’ll become part of the mainstream of accepted beliefs. And after that, as other new ideas emerge and find agreement, an idea will gradually become marginal again. Eventually it will become a fringe idea once more. And in the end maybe only one person will adhere to it. So one could say that ideas or beliefs ordinarily start out on the fringe, gain mainstream currency and support, and finally end up back on the fringe. That is to say: Ideas come and go. Or, to use what may be an apt analogy, ideas are like morsels of food which enter via the mouth, are chewed over, and either swallowed or spat out, and then digested and finally eliminated at the other end of the digestive tract.
It seems to me that these signatories have an idea of science as something that progresses in one direction only: towards ever-increasing truth and certainty and accuracy. Last year’s science isn’t as good as this year’s science, and next year’s science will be even better than this year’s science. And once science has advanced anywhere, it becomes fixed and immutable, set in stone. The river of science is one that flows evenly and steadily in one direction only. And so when scientists discovered that the world wasn’t flat, and that smoking causes lung cancer, these newly-minted scientific truths became unquestionable dogmas, and the debate was over.
But I don’t see science as being like that at all. I think scientists can and do get things wrong from time to time. In fact I think they almost always do, to start with. And I don’t think anything is set in stone. The river of science may very broadly flow in one direction, but it is full of eddies in which the water is in some places flowing in the opposite direction, and it also meanders from side to side so much that sometimes the entire river is moving in the opposite direction, and what was once the main stream of the river becomes sidelined as a motionless fringe oxbow lake.
So what happens to be the “mainstream” set of beliefs right now most likely won’t be the mainstream tomorrow. And it won’t be the day after that either. It changes all the time.
And so it seems rather silly to me characterise some ideas as fringe ideas to be discounted and ignored.
And anyway, it seems to me that the signatories of this letter themselves belong to a “misguided fringe”. For as best I understand, the general public for the most part do not regard climate change as a matter of any sort of pressing concern: it regularly comes last in opinion polls. Most people simply aren’t interested. And is it very surprising if the very first of the 60 signatories was Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, and the second one is Executive director of Greenpeace, others are from the Climatic Research Unit of UEA and another is Director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and so on? They’re all greenies, and they all believe the things that greenies believe. It’s more or less as if the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury and numerous other Christian clerics had written a letter affirming their belief in God, and their refusal to debate the matter any more with infidels and unbelievers. It’s only a few of the names on the list which might seem a bit surprising. Wasn’t Peter Tatchell a gay rights campaigner? When did he become a global warming alarmist? And why? And does it matter?
I rather think that these 60 signatories have more or less told the world that they have become a monastic order that has sworn a vow of silence, and they will only talk to each other. For perhaps they have sensed that fickle public opinion is shifting away from them, and their ideas and beliefs are becoming increasingly marginal. And with luck we’ll never hear from any of them ever again.