We can dismiss this attack on Al Gore fairly easily I should have thought. The fact that his family made money out of coal seems about as irrelevant to his own moral worth as you can get. Would Himmler’s grandson be a hypocrite for not wanting to wipe out the Jews? Preposterous. All of us who have European blood in us will have ancestors who made money from, or whose lives were made infinitely easier by, slavery. Does that mean we’d be hypocritical to disapprove of it? I am not saying coalmining is a moral equivalent, of course. It could just as easily be that one’s grandfather made his money out of meat-packing: would be it then be hypocritical to be a vegetarian?
Using the jet, though: this one hears more of. So far as I know Al Gore hasn’t gone around saying we should all stop using jets, it seemed to me from his film that his whole argument was that we don’t have to get all medieval and pre-industrial in order to halt the threat of global warming. I appreciate it would be terribly convenient to those who deny the problems he has drawn our attention to if he could be leapt upon for not recycling this, not saving that, for actually using electricity, for shamelessly driving a car etc etc. But even if Al Gore had said that no one should fly around in jets or use electricity, then does it actually mean the world isn’t getting warmer and that we shouldn’t do something about it? I mean it’s perfectly possible that he’s a hypocrite, but how does that alter the central facts? After all, I can say “always be kind, always be responsible, always treat others well” – if I then spent a day being unkind, irresponsible and unpleasant in my treatment of others if might make me something of a Tartuffe but it would not instantly render the ethical standards I had recommended worthless, it would simply mean that I hadn’t lived up to them. So even if Gore is the completest hypocrite, it has no bearing on his claims.
Jim now came to his central argument. “I’m not a scientist. I don’t have the technical knowledge to determine whether this global warming is a real, man made threat or not. Do you?” Well I suppose Jim was accustomed to this argument appearing to be quite a clincher. Obviously very few people he meets are likely to reply that they do have the technical knowledge. What is more Jim could spread his hands wide and claim not to be a ‘global warming denier’ (a phrase that made him very angry indeed. He denounced it as ‘that cliché’, which is not quite what it is, but we’ll let it pass). ‘I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, I’m not saying it does. I’m just saying I don’t know.’
Others around the table interjected with the observation that the vast majority of scientists were united in their views. This he countered with, ‘there are plenty of scientists who say it’s all nonsense’. Well, it’s undignified to go into the game of listing the academic institutions whose leading professors are in the orthodox majority. Besides, in that sense, he is right. I can’t catalogue the scientists on each side of the debate and I am aware that leading deniers have adduced their apparent experts who parry the claims of the mainstream with counterclaims of their own. I don’t think anyone can deny that it is the majority of scientists who believe that global warming a) exists and b) is caused by man’s industrial activity, pollution and energy consumption, but that doesn’t mean they are right. The vast majority of scientists in the first half of the nineteenth century thought disease was spread by smell. They were wrong. So we concede that numbers mean nothing, a thing is true or it is not. And Jim is right. I will never know enough, nor will he, about climatology, oceanography, chemistry, biology, metereology and the dozen other ologies I would need to understand in order to arrive at a wholly confident technical, scientific decision. So can I just, as Jim appears to be able to do, sit back and believe myself logically and morally justified in acting as if global warming and its threat to us is not proven?