One of the deep problems with morality is that, when people think it is on their side, they sometimes abandon the truth.
History is, of course, rife with examples of those who broke with truth in light of what they perceived as a higher moral cause. You have to wonder if that's not the case with today's environmentalism. David Roberts is the most current example.
In a recent post
, he tries to explain his position on "the moral logic of climate communication" (whatever the heck that means) with a loose analogy to a sick patient who is dying, but feels alright at the moment. He sets the very conditions he needs for his argument to prevail.
"Scientific accuracy is a virtue. But affective impact and moral resonance are also virtues. We cannot say things we know are false about climate change, but we also cannot, in good conscience, be indifferent to whether our words have any effect. Both moral obligations have a claim on us and, contra the scolds, narrow scientific accuracy is not a trump card in every tough case."
The operative word here is, of course, the "but" that begins the second sentence. He goes on
"All those involved in communicating climate should take a hand in claiming the storm (Sandy) for that narrative. It is, ultimately, immoral not to."
And then his last sentence gives away the game:
"...narrow scientific accuracy is not a trump card in every tough case."
Look: scientific accuracy is all we have
. The entire
case for manmade climate change rests on it. Because it is not
obvious that man is causing climate change. There is no pollution visible in the sky, no rivers catching on fire. The argument -- the only
argument -- is scientific, based on the absorption spectrum of carbon dioxide, robotic measurements
of ocean temperatures, the analysis of historical proxies, and the intelligence to connect them all.
Abandoning science now -- even in part -- is to abandon what has got you this far. And I don't think people are that stupid and gullible -- even the ones who (pretend they) don't accept the science.
And what Roberts' is advocating for is abandoning science -- that is is "immoral" not to...stretch the truth. Immoral not to lie.
To me this is an obviously lost position, that I simply can't fathom, or accept.
How does Roberts get to that point? Because his defense essentially boils down to this:
"Humanity is at stake."
Of course, if that truly were the case, it's hard to argue for any limitations at all. If your village is about to be overrun by powerful Vandals, with 100% certainty, all your women and children to be killed, your death certain, what action, what lie, what atrocity isn't justified on your part?
But it's very convenient to take that point of view -- who can possibly argue against you if that's the case? You have shut the door on the argument from your side, and locked it. You have claimed the high ground, de facto,
no questions invited, and none tolerated.
But this is a serious logical mistake on Roberts' part. It is far, far
from clear that climate change puts humanity "at stake" -- viz., threatens its very existence, viz. means the human species will cease to exist.
He has not, in fact, taken the high ground -- he is just trying to shout louder from his hill.
Climate change is a story just getting started, and there are many paths it can take. Certainly it is an extremely difficult problem. Clearly there is the potential for some to suffer more than they otherwise would in the absence of climate change. (But there are those will gain benefits, too.)
But very smart people realize this problem and are working on it. Some are seriously considering geoengineering, whether it's taking carbon dioxide out of the air or reducing the amount of sunlight that hits earth. Lots of well-meaning people are working on mitigation, on adaptation, on struggling with the deep issues of governance.
And I think people are coming around. Maybe it was Sandy, with all its doubts and uncertainties. Maybe it was the US heat wave this spring, and the Moscow heat wave of 2010. Maybe it's all the scientists who are putting their necks on the line, and all their opponents who seem, any more, to only worm their way
along the low road
Heck, Grover Norquist just uttered the words "carbon" and "tax" in succession. OK, he quickly backtracked
-- but then, he's a political animal who survives by the moment. He would never have done this much even a month ago. The wheel is turning.
And these people who are working on the issue -- they are not abandoning truth along the way, or even stretching it. Roberts wants them to abandon the truth for the sake of their (his?) cause. That cannot, and has never, won anything in the long run. It just makes you a liar.
And how can you stand on that?