Dec 12, 2009

Doubting the doubters

"I can't say that I really have any sophisticated understanding of the science of climate change," says Josh Marshall. "For me, the fact that the vast majority of people with specialized knowledge in the field think there's a problem is good enough for me."

I like that: good enough for me. If I am honest about how I know climate change to be happening, the real answer is that I do not. I take it in trust because I find the alternative theories — that thousands of the world's best scientists have all made exactly the same error, independently of one another, or else are engaged in a massive global conspiracy to confuse and frighten — too cumbersome to be true. The same is true of many of of my favorite facts. If someone turned up on my doorstep and asked me to prove that the Holocaust happened, I would be unable to. It's simply that the alternative theory is far too complicated and unwieldy and would probably result in me not getting out of bed in the morning for fear my neighbours were in on it too. That's not the kind of vibe truth generally gives off. Which is why I don't trust the skeptics: they are skeptical of this one thing and nothing else. Their skepticism is suspiciously patchy. They do not doubt that the sun will rise in the morning. Or that the Holocaust happened. Or that Hemingway was not a heterosexual. But they do doubt climate change, and for some reason they all tend to be on the right, which is traditionally exceedingly defensive of the interests of big business. Therefore the theory that climate change is happening wins simply by virtue of simplicity. That for me is the essence of a winning argument: the one which can most comprehensively explain why those who oppose it think the way they do.*

*This, incidentally, is why I don't buy any of the major religions. Not because they don't have the winning argument against atheists — in fact, I happen to think they do — but because they have no explanation for the other religions. The first world religion to include a working theory of why the other guys believe what they do gets my vote.

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