Guest Post by Jerome Ravetz
First, let me respond to Willis. I owe him a huge apology. Yes, I was reading his mind, when I had a vivid memory of some strong statements he made about Judith. Checking those, I could see that these were not directed at Judith personally, and that they were made in the context of his respect and admiration for her. That was on the 25th of February, and his comment on the previous day was a model of civility. This is not the first time that I have been misled by a vivid memory, but I do hope that it will be nearly the last. Again, my apologies. Willis is too important a critic of mine to allow these errors to get in the way of a discussion. Of him and of scientistfortruth, I can paraphrase the old Jewish motto and say, with enemies like that, who needs friends?
Second, on the issue of what the alarmists should now do, I would like to introduce another consideration as a justification for non-violence.
The climate issue is not a simple normal-scientific one of verification or refutation of an hypothesis. It has become a ‘total’ issue, involving policy, politics, investments and lifestyle; and it has a history. In that it is something of an ideology, or ‘ism’. In that respect it resembles the belief in centrally-planned economy on the one hand, or an unregulated-markets economy on the other. People become committed to a position, or defect from it, for a great variety of reasons. In one of my essays I distinguished between ‘climate scientists’ who are grappling with the manifold uncertainties of this very young science (of course I agree with Willis here), and the ‘global-warming scientists’, those identified by Mike Hulme as the key insiders for the IPCC. That was useful at the time, but I would say that it is overly simple. Corresponding to the complexity of the issue, there is a complexity of personal positions, each one involved in a personal, private dialogue.
Of course there will be people at the extremes, and they make the most noise. But what is so precious about the blogosphere is that they are brought out into debate (as Gavin now on Judith’s blog), and so those with all sorts of concerns and reservations can witness and assess the arguments. Three things are then in play. First, the ‘demeanour of the witness’ is used as evidence for the quality of their case. Those who bluster and accuse are interpreted as doing so to make up for the lack of good arguments. Then, equally important, those who are perplexed can watch it all, and use the debates as materials for their own reflections. And finally, even those who are deeply committed have a space where they can confront their doubts and reservations, and work their way towards a resolution.
It’s like the old fable about the contest between the wind and the sun, as to who could get the man’s coat off. In more modern terms, when the wagons are circled, all those inside have to conform, but when there is a ceremony of peacemaking, understandings can be created.
There is a question of what to do about those people who are judged to have been really bad in the past. On that I can only offer an example. In Northern Ireland, we have had the astonishing spectacle of a former Protestant bigot and a former Republican terrorist becoming close personal friends. The players were the Rev. Ian Paisley on the one side, and Martin McGuiness on the other. I have no idea what went on inside their minds; but somehow, without any fanfare, they achieved reconciliation.
Now, let’s see where Willis and I still disagree on this issue. (He clearly disapproves strongly of ‘Post-Normal Science’, an issue I do hope to address soon. And there is unfinished business on Truth.) Maybe it’s this. When AGW scientists (as distinct from climate scientists) are perceived by a broader public and by their less-committed colleagues as engaging in grossly inappropriate practices, their credibility will surely go. On this issue there is now a very effective ‘extended peer community’, with strong roots in the blogosphere but now including some mainstream media.
Of course, given that the climate issue is so total, it gets tangled up in other issues and recruited by people with other agendas; I personally am not comfortable at being on the same side as Sarah Palin, though others in the debate might be OK with this. So the issue will be decided, or is being decided, in the messy and highly imperfect way of all politicised issues. For me, the job of those of us who are involved, in one way or another, is to keep our debate as clean as we can, and that is why I consider my task to be promoting non-violence.