Thursday, October 11, 2007
It is strange that in the same week that everybody says Al Gore will win the Nobel Peace Prize, a British judge has drawn attention to inaccuracies in his film An Inconvenient Truth. The judge is right, of course, the film is a polemic by a politician that cleverly confuses truth and wild speculation. It is true, for example, that almost all scientists agree that global warming is happening and that humans are, to a greater or lesser extent, responsible. It is wild speculation to say that this entails an imminent 20 foot rise in sea levels. The bad end of the worst official estimates is about two feet by 2100. Nevertheless, Gore plainly thinks that his message is too important to be buried under uncertainties. Humankind, in the wisdom of contemporary politics, cannot bear very much uncertainty. But, to a rough approximation, everything is uncertain and, therefore, to an equally rough approximation, all current political rhetoric is meaningless. In the case of global warming this is an especially serious problem. Gore and the greens spout 'certainties', sceptics shoot holes in them and the public is left thinking it's like watching Hal and the boy David at the despatch boxes. But, of course, it's nothing like that. Either continuing to chuck 30 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year is going to do us serious damage or it isn't. Intelligent sceptics like Bjorn Lomborg say it may do us some damage but not enough to cause panic. Intelligent deep greens Like James Lovelock think it may soon destroy our civilisation. (People who think it will do nothing do not qualify as 'intelligent'.) But the truth is we don't know - I'm nearer Lovelock, but only tentatively and I am fully aware that my temperament plays a part in this - and the only real political issue is how we assess the risk. This is a fantastically complex subject and, if politicians want to tell the truth, they should admit that to the public. Merely taking a position, like Gore and the dumber sceptics, should not be a serious option. Having an opinion on global warming is about as meaningful as having an opinion on the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The law and the warming will go on no matter what you think. Personally, I think it's bloody obvious that we should cut emissions and develop green technologies. But it's equally bloody obvious that Gore would be a very odd choice for the Peace Prize.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:41 am