Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Climate change and the politics of pseudo-science

In the midst of the absurdity that constitutes current debate on climate change, Steve Fielding, an absurd Australian politician, has illuminated some of the reasons such a debate remains festering long after rationality has won through.

Fielding, a quixotic conservative (who scraped into parliament on preferences and votes from people who didn't realised where his 'Family First' party stood on anything), has latched onto an issue that he doesn't realise has left him all asea.

He had argued that a) debate on climate change had been stifled, and b) global temperature rises are not anthropogenic (human-caused) in origin.

Fielding's views - and the reactions to them - are discussed in this article. In a nutshell, he had based his understanding on a single, selective source: Heaven And Earth, a book by Adelaide geologist Ian Plimer.

1. Don't expect politicians to appreciate that their leadership position behooves them to at least attempt to act wisely.
2. Getting your information from a single source - and then not reading critiques of said source - does not make you wise.
3. As quoted in the above article, a book that is "an opinion of an author who happens to be a scientist" does not necessarily equate to a "work of science".

This last point is the most salient, as it gives some insight into how easily people's understanding gets hijacked if they don't a) don't appreciate how scientific consensus is formulated, and b) don't read much.

11-Jun-09 update: According to a more recent news report, "Senator Fielding's newfound scepticism is a result of his trip to the US to listen to the Heartland Institute of Chicago, an organisation that is funded by the fossil-fuel industry."

I would say that people are responsible for their own reputation, and are entitle to muck it up as they choose. Unfortunately, the ramifications are a little more severe: he is one of several people that hold the balance of power in the Senate, and so is uniquely placed to derail any government initiatives on climate change. Yet to pile irony upon irony, the government's plans are quite sub-optimal, so at this point it is hard for anyone to tell for sure whether Fielding's stumblings will help or hinder the cause.

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