GLOBAL WARMING: WHO HAS THE BURDEN OF PROOF?
This month I read an article in the magazine Conservative America in which the chairman and president take on the topic of global warming, acknowledging the sheer reality. “We are republicans,” they wrote, “but we are Americans first.”
A better suited word would have been humans.
In light of this, I would like to offer both global warming deniers and fence-sitters a new perspective.
Most of us pass off environmental concerns as myths:Pssh, what doesn’t cause cancer these days? This irritates me, mostly because I realize that I am often guilty of this faulty thinking. The issue goes beyond microwaves, though. Cell phones, pesticides, cosmetics, and big car engines are all questionable for our environment, and we pass all that off just as easily. Now, I am neither an expert on the history of these industries nor on the risks their products pose. But I believe I know why the vast majority of us blindly accept those products — as well as unnecessary or overdue innovations to existing ones — as safe.
Quite frequently, I debate the issue of global warming to my right-winged friend. (We will call him Jim.) Every time, Jim fires back with the same curious response: Despite some good evidence, he says, the prospect that we could have any real effect on our ozone layer is too far-fetched to accept. Maybe in the future, he says, if concrete evidence is established to show that excessive CO2 emission poses a threat to our lives, he will think twice about driving five minutes down the road to his work.
This sort of error is tricky, because conservatives like Jim are truly making an effort to assess the controversy through a legitimate method of reasoning: demanding that the claim-maker provides evidence for their claim, rather than accepting that claim simply because of a lack of evidence to the contrary. This is a good, sound rule. Even our court system is designed only to find out whether someone is guilty, rather than innocent. We respect this system; it comes as second nature. For the most part, it keeps us from believing ridiculous things. But it is also where so many of us go wrong when we analyze certain issues, including our world as we know it.
Establishing who has the burden of proof (“proof” really meaning evidence) is not always so simple. We need to think carefully about which side is making the real claim. This is where the problem occurs. Sometimes we get it wrong, either because the claim is complex in its nature or not stated explicitly by a single distinguishable party. For the sake of simplicity, and because such a fallacy is not recognized in basic philosophy, I refer to this as theglobal warming fallacy — but it can be applied to any likewise miscalculation, in the consideration of any debate.
If I dismissed the evidence for microwave-related diseases as inconclusive, would I be right to yield that as a logical reason to continue using it everyday? Some would say yes, that the environmentalists have the burden of proof — since they are the ones asserting all these big, scary consequences — and have failed to demonstrate it. However, there exists a paradigm shift: Who exactly made the first claim here? Better yet, we should consider who is making the real claim — the claim responsible for the entire controversy.
Products come about as a means to serve a purpose, to enhance our lives. Is the marketing of hunky engines, powerful pesticides, and billions of cell phones not a statement in itself that these inventions are, in fact, beneficial to our society as a whole? Should these claims not require adequate proof before we treat those products as gems, dreading letting them go? Such proof would necessitate that their advantages outweigh their dangers in terms of the public good. If tested this way, would those advantages — such as being able to cook our food quicker, or getting more miles for the buck — win against the casualties promised by the overwhelming amount of scientists and climatologists? Would they outweigh cancer, worldwide flooding, Colony Collapse Disorder, and the extinction of over 17 thousand species of animals? Probably not. The overall beneficially of those products would fail to be demonstrated, and the burden of proof would be unfulfilled by those responsible for it.
Cars, nuclear power plants, microwaves, cellular devices, and artificial cosmetics are all man-made creations:they are the intruders:they are the invaders;they are the strange properties whose whose implementation into our naturally suitable environment should require a great amount of convincing for us to allow;they should be the eyebrow raisers, yet we accept them as harmless by default, and we aim our skepticism toward the skeptics. Just 30 or so factual errors by Al Gore in his cautionary 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth— one measly film — deemed the entire idea of global warming ridiculous to millions of American newspaper readers. Thin ice is often spotted on the wrong side of the field.
The existence of human-caused global warming is considered factual by over 90 percent of the scientific community. The rate of energy re-radiated into space is decreasing — despite an unchanging amount of energy coming from the sun — and this figure correlates directly withour increased rate of CO2 emission. Our earth has warmed almost 2 degrees in less than 30 years. Greenhouse gases effect us, simple as that. Further, we can actually observe global warming at its fullest. That being said, shrugging it off is arguably less sensible than Holocaust denial.
Unfortunately, I feel that most of our country, which sits on the #2 spot for highest CO2 levels, subconsciously clings to that “controversy” they hear about in the media as a means to keep living comfortably — destructively. One must learn to listen to scientists, not politicians, when it comes to issues like this. Why? Because scientists, unlike politicians, shape their opinions on one element only: truth — whether or not it is inconvenient, ill-timed, or unhelpful in a campaign.
The next question to ask is whether our behavior is worth it. That question is pretty reasonable, unlike that of climate crisis. The degree of damage each product causes is also a reasonable factor to speculate, sure, but only under the merit that acknowledging those figures will play into how you decide to behave from then on.
One demonstrates their ability to use their own head not by denying issues to the death, but by acknowledging them head on — when there is still time to fix them! — and acting accordingly. If you do not care, fair enough — your opinion is set, your actions reflect it, well done, carry on. But if you do care — if you are irked by the thoughts of ruining the world where your children will grow up, or killing off entire populations of animals that have walked our earth for thousands of years — then act it. Lower your thermostat. Use less paper. Take your bike to school, not your car; use your house lights for seeing, not existing; and think of a green world, not a green bank account, when you are inside the voting booth.
I encourage you to read this great Salon article entitled I Was a Climate Change Denier: http://www.salon.com/2013/07/30/i_was_a_climate_change_denier_partner/