Saturday, May 19, 2012

'Facts' as the rhetoric of Prophets : the James Hansen case

   It is a rare - and unwise - prophet who limits themselves to proclaiming that x will happen by year y and leaves it at that.
   No, the prophet usually says, 'you will go to hell for sure - unless you change your ways'.
   Reduced to its fundamentals, it becomes 'x is certain to happen, unless it does not'.
   Not just hard, but impossible, to argue with that.
   Making it excellent fodder for all types of rhetorical 'discourse', as they say in the land of the tenure-stream bound.
    Not that people don't try: usually by taking prophecies out of context - this too is an age old rhetorical trick.
   Denier: 'Hansen said in 2003, temps would be up 5% in 2012 and that isn't so - he is wrong so why should we trust him?'
   Perhaps the denier is right.
    Or perhaps not : maybe what Hansen actually predicted was that temps will be up by 5%,  unless we cut car milage use by 20%.
  We did - and so temps stayed basically flat.
   I was moved to write this post, after reading something Halifax scientist Chris Majka wrote in entitled Thermometer Rising.
    Chris points to the un-snowball effect if consuming arctic-derived petroleum (newly available for us to use, thanks to existing global warming effects) warms up arctic ice enough to release global warming gas methane which in turns leads to more warming and more methane releases on a runaway train to hell.
    In particular, the arctic hydrocarbon flavour of the day for Big Oil is those same trapped methane gas in long frozen arctic deposits.
    But my eye - I am ashamed to say - was more caught on a brief para or two that Chris devoted to the prophets.
    The prophets of science.
     Prophet one : NASA climate change scientist JamesHansen and his claim about the Alberta Tar sands:
    'If all the hydrocarbons in the tar sands are consumed, the temperature will rise by x and it will be game over for CIV.'
    Some have responded to Hansen's claim by stating - as if it was a fact - that 'the future will reveal that not all of those oil sand hydrocarbons will be consumed'.
    What really is at work here are two prophets warring with words , about the unknowable future.
  'If all 100% of tar sands hydrocarbons are consumed the temperature with rise y degrees and we are doomed.'
   'If only 20% of tar sands are consumed, the temp will only go up z degrees, and we are saved.'
    Rhetoric is rhetoric - from scientists or not: the artful art of persuasion.
    We've heard an awful lot from scientists over Hansen's tar sands 'op ed' piece.
    But maybe they should go back to their field studies and labs and let the real experts in this field have their say.
   By that I mean the theologians and the politicians, the used car salesmen and the con-artists: past experts in creating - and dissecting - rhetoric and bluster....

1 comment:

  1. Well said - there are indeed a large number of used car salesmen and con-artists who have weighed in on this issue and have brought a good deal of heat - but no illumination - to it.