The environmental movement is the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world, according to Myron Ebell, an adviser to the US president Donald Trump’s administration and leading professional climate change denier.
xxHis institute does not disclose its funders but has in the past received money from the oil giant Exxon Mobil. Our special interest is, I would say, freedom, he claims. And he lambasts the ‘expertariat’, which he says the people of America have rejected and I think with good reason because I think the expertariat have been wrong about one thing after another, including climate policy.
OK, so let’s take this one thing at a time…
A hoax, funded by interest groups?
xxAs opposed to the super-rich fossil fuel interest groups funding him?! And a hoax played along with by every major apparently independent university and private science and data gathering institution? It is stunning that a man patently fronting for oil-rich billionaires can make claims about special interest groups trying to close down freedoms. Ignorance is strength, indeed.
The ‘expertariat’ (see also Gove, M.)
xxSure, science isn’t perfect and 100% right all the time. It doesn’t claim to be, but it does say, ‘given the data we have available and the best theories we’ve come up with so far, this is our best explanation of what was and what may happen — and we’re still gonna question the results and refine the techniques.’ And increasingly as models and data are refined, and computing power increases, it’s pretty accurate.
xxOf course, as with the goalie not getting to the ball, the mistakes are glaring and memorable, but put it this way: if you’re not listening to experts, on what do you base your decisions?
xxScience and experts land tiny spacecraft on whizzing comets squillions of miles away, flinging things into space in the direction your instincts tell you will probably waste a lot of expensive shit. Experts have a pretty good record at telling you when it’s gonna rain, even with the chaotic nature of weather patterns and those pesky butterflies..
xxScientific predictions and analyses may be wrong even 20% of the time (it’s probably far less often, but I have no idea how to check that); but tossing a coin will be wrong 50% of the time, and believing something just because it’s what you want to believe has lit many men the way to dusty (and rather premature) death.
…wrong about … climate policy?
xxEven if we ignore all the glaring reasons to wonder (at least) about the way the climate is going (and anyone over thirty will be aware of changes) — retreating ice caps and the desperately swimming polar bears, frequent extreme and anomalous weather events the world over, let alone the statistical data — even then it is simple reason that we can only know a policy like this is wrong by totally ignoring it (à la Trump), followed by the simple expedient of ‘wait and see’. And if it turns out that you are wrong, Mr Ebell, you can say ‘oh shit, sorry!’ and we can all have a good laugh about it. And say, at least we had increased freedom. If we can still breathe, of course.
… the people of America have rejected …?
xxOh I am so pissed off with this ‘will of the people’ crap. I understand, as I’ve said before, the principles of collective responsibility, the practical reasons for taking a majority, even a narrow one, as representative of the whole, but this is synecdoche gone mad!
xxAnarchists have often argued that the mechanisms of governance, be they authoritarian, populist or democratic, militate against the application of reason. We now seem to be in a spiral of increasingly adversarial discourse (ie we argue too bloody much), where digging in to a position, dismissing those on the other side as dumbass or venal, prevents all attempts to convince, destroys all trust in real, verifiable data (even allowing for and benefiting from an awareness that pure fact will always be affected by social and personal baggage). But to me, in all these points, I hold that it is as much in the interests of Ebell, Trump, Farage, Nutall, Putin and May, not to mention everyone who supports them, to rethink their position — or even try convince me and other nice people to rethink ours.
xxThe biggest point that keeps nagging at me is this. If he is wrong, what then? According to Wikipedia he has a wife and four children, relatives whose futures one might suppose matter to him. Does he never entertain any doubt? Does he (and bear in mind I use him purely as one example of a wider malaise) never wonder on what basis he might actually make this judgement? Does he, like a lot of people, cherry pick from among the self-styled ‘scientific’ deniers, choosing to believe the distortions surrounding misreported nonsense like the UEA email of 2009, because they reinforce what he wants to believe? Does he actually believe all the demonstrably wrong horseshit on alt-right sites, even though he must be more aware than most of what they are and why they contain what they do?
xxAs an aside, it has often seemed to Yrs Trly that the salesperson, trained in the ways of opinion and desire manipulation, is also one of the most susceptible to the very tools of which he or she should be most aware, and thus to which most immune. They say a good salesperson has to believe in what they’re selling; maybe this form of doublethink is the essential protector of (emotional) investment. No doubt a man who gets rich promoting ideas to shore up oil billionaires has a lot to lose by thinking clearly. Not as much as his offspring stand to lose if he’s wrong.
xxBut he, not much less than Trump and all the people the Donald has gathered round him, is now in a far better position to call on all the greatest minds in some of the most highly-respected scientific establishments on the planet (and I don’t doubt a few volunteers could be found from Oxbridge and Paris and even the hoaxers of Beijing to lend their weight). And, of course, all the leading deniers too. They could be gathered in a room, make their cases, present the data, even verify sources and readings …
* * *
xxI’m lucky, he said sardonically: I don’t have any kids and I probably don’t have all that many years to go. But if I was a Trump or a Pence or a Bannon, let alone an Ebell, I sure as hell wouldn’t be missing this opportunity to free the world by putting this hoax to bed once and for all — or to save it and my descendants by accepting at least the slight possibility that I may be mistaken.
Klimawechsel macht Frei?