Getting Overheated

For the eco-believer it’s no-lose situation: we all survive if they’re right and we’ve acted on their belief, we survive if they’re wrong and we’ve acted on their belief. Whereas for the eco-denier we survive if they’re right and we’ve done nothing but we perish if they’re wrong and we’ve done nothing.

Some of you may be thinking this is just a reiteration of Pascal’s Wager. Better to back the existence of God, the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher argued, because if you’re wrong it wouldn’t matter, for after death there’d be oblivion, while if you were right there would be a great reward. Being atheist on the other hand risks eternal damnation. The smart money’s on taking a chance on God. You can’t lose, it’s either oblivion or paradise. For the atheist, it’s either oblivion or lakes of fire in perpetuity.

So is my suggestion, no more than a restatement of that frankly silly ‘reason’ for believing in God?

Well. Pascal’s Wager is silly because, arch rationalist as he was, he is not giving a reason for belief in God, he is giving a reason for behaving as if God exists, a motive for believing in God, if you like. Which is all very well, but if God is all that he is cracked up to be he would see through such slippery self-interest and condemn you to those lakes of fire anyway. God is not asking, or certainly wasn’t in Pascal’s day, for man to follow an ethical code, no religion I know has ever suggested such a thing (although they might argue ethical codes follow upon religious obervance – but that’s a whole other can of worms for another day) God was asking for obedience, belief praise, thanks and observance. He has never offered in Christianity, Judaism or Islam, so far as I can tell, to reward those who merely punt on the side of his existence. For that reason, aside from its greasy moral turpitude, Pascal’s Wager sucks.

Does my wager fall at the same fence? Well I don’t think so, for a motive to behave as if the global warming prognostications were true does not offend some God of Global Warming who will only make the earth safer if full and proper belief is proffered. Not does it skip round some holy motive for behaving greenly. No environmentalist will care whether someone does their best because they are a true believer or because they are hedging their bets. The wager here is fair and good.

So, I suppose I am saying this.

Those who believe, the A types, should take action on global warming. B types, who don’t believe, are free not to though they wouldn’t lose out by taking action, except in small ways which, placed in the scales against the potential losses … well, I’ve made that point. But C types. Types like Jim who sit on the fence and claim not to know enough, they surely are the ones for whom the wager makes the most sense. “I don’t know the science, but I do know that the smart money is on taking action.” That’s all they have to realize. So, far from justifying inaction, not being sure overwhelmingly justifies action.

Or so it seems to me, and so I tried to express the other night around a table. I might as well have saved my breath. It got all very unpleasant. “Are you calling me a liar?” was the response to my suggestion that claiming neutrality was a dishonest argument because it automatically sided Jim with the deniers. “I mean the argument is dishonest!” “You’re calling me a liar!” When I proffered self-deception over dishonesty it hardly helped.

Two things we must agree on. One is the feeble stupidity of searching gleefully for signs of hypocrisy in those who believe the world is getting warmer. You’d be as well to search for it in Christians, those worried about poverty or anyone else who professes to an ideal. The other, from the believers themselves, is the foolishness of building a climate of inquisition in which the purity of everyone’s environmental credentials is tested and exposed. If you create an atmosphere in which driving a car, going on holiday, leaving a light turned on or failing to recycle a bottle is accounted a crime, a failing, a weakness, something to be loudly condemned, then you will lose the earth, for no self-respecting human being is going to be recruited to a cause whose spokesmen are as self-righteous religious zealots, making impossible demands all at once on fallible human beings.

Pages: single page< 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 >

This blog was posted in Blessays

207 comments on “Getting Overheated”

  1. Uli says:

    I was very happy to see you talking about the “American” way of discussion, because it’s something I’ve scratched my head at for a while. Without wanting to express or provoke any anti-American sentiments, I too have a very great problem with people who skirt around any productive discussion by saying “let’s agree to disagree” (in the best possible scenario, of course, the worst being the kind of personal offence-taking you describe above). As I myself wrote in a blant [I like these awful neologisms] a while ago, I don’t really understand the concept of creating respect by using phrases that seem artificial and counter-productive.

    If you as a Briton have a problem with it, just imagine how hard it must be for us Germans, who cause consternation whenever we open our mouths in a foreign country…

  2. Steve Howard says:

    Great stuff – I need to go back and read all the comment, but wanted to add mine while it’s fresh.

    On Global Warming, I have a slightly different perspective.

    First – We absolutely should take steps to ensure we ruduce and if at all possible, ultimately stop polluting this planet. Even without any discussion of global warming, we can see with ease the environmental damage we have been doing since the Industrial Revolution. Common sense says stop doing that.

    Furthermore, I don’t believe that cleaning up our act necessarily strangles economic vibrancy or industrial/technological progress. We are smart enough to address environmental isssues without introducing technological stagnation or regression!!

    Second – I remain completely unconvinced by the arguments that Global Warming is a phenomenon brought on entirely by our pollution of the planet. I firmly believe that the Earth has natural climate cycles that we have no comprehension of (can you say “ice age” boys and girls?). Any attempt to interfere with that natural cycle is likely to be futile, and certainly expensive. My biggest fear is that we spend the next 100 years and more trying to force the climate to mimic some false “average climate” based arbitrarily on temperature and rainfall averages as measured in 1800, 1950 or whatever.

    Oh – and as a Scot now resident in Mississippi, don’t *start* me on cultural differences!!!

  3. Steve Howard says:

    donquixote Said:

    “One more thing, though. Pascal’s Wager, as silly as it is, is not quite as silly as you say it is. Obviously, God would, as you say, see through a purely pragmatic “belief” in Him. However, belief in God, be it the Judaeo-Christian God, or the Islamic God, or any other kind of God you care to mention, goes hand to hand with a religious and therefore moral framework. If you believe in the Christian God, surely then it’s only logical to love thy neighbour and follow the 10 commandments?”

    Ah – American Christian. Probably from the Bible belt? One of my favourite bullshitisms from this country. The implication, of course, is that if you do not believe in a God you must be immoral.

    What a pile of tripe. Morality does not equate to religion, and religion does not equate to morality – American prisons are full of people who ‘found god’ before, during or after their immoral acts. Morality simply means you understand that hurting others (through theft or the tittilation of your neighbour’s wife, etc.) and/or breaking the law of the land are really not good things to do.

  4. Stephen R says:

    Stephen –

    I’m an American from a family of debaters — argument and debate over the dinner table (or drinks) is practically the air I breathe. This causes no end of consternation to my wife, who, (as you generalize Americans), inevitably feels she is being attacked.

    In short: I highly respect your ability to step back and regard an opposing outlook dispassionately (at least in writing) and logically. You have an ability to break things down into digestible chunks that is unusual, and greatly welcomed when I do find it.

    That being said: I disagree with the bulk of your conclusions in this post RE global warming, but would absolutely _love_ to raise some hell about it with you. :-) I’ve always felt that reasoned debate with one’s opponents is the _only_ way to truly hone one’s own arguments, and you are exactly the type of personality that I get along with even when I disagree.

    I’m not A, B, or C. I am, it seems, part of group “D”. Yes the planet’s climate is changing; and no, it has little, if anything, to do with man; and the attempts to avoid something that we cannot influence would be actively harmful.

    As a guy who lives right next to a giant lake that was carved by a glacier (Lake Michigan), in an area that sees 90 degree (Fahrenheit) days in the summer, I can say _absolutely_ that the Earth’s climate changes, and has been doing so since long before the rise of human Industry. One needs only look at the agricultural villages buried under the ice of Greenland (let me say that again… The _ice_ covering _Green Land_) to know that the planet undergoes large swings in long term climate.

    The flipside of that is that dumping massive regulation on people in efforts to avoid such change will do more damage to human freedom than doing nothing. That is, the futile efforts to prevent something that has as much to do with the output of our sun as the output of volcanoes is going to hurt many, and help nothing.

    Ironically, it is the vast wealth of industrialized nations that has lead to many of the technological innovations that are causing the USA to become _more_ environmentally sound even as we produce more wealth. I myself have invested in a company (Cree) that is working on making LEDs bright enough to use as lighting in businesses and homes. When they do figure it out, it will be an advance that leaves mercury-filled, flickering, heat-producing flourescents in the dust — 20-year bulbs that produce clean light and run for pennies a year.

    Who is creating this? China? No. Russia? No. Germany, perhaps? Nope. The most industrially free society on the planet is inventing most of the technology that will enable _everyone_ to be more environmentally sound in the future, and ironically, the socialistic “environmental” regulations that folks such as you are trying to rationalize with calls of “what could be the harm?” would stifle exactly that innovation.

    You’ve got my email. En garde!

  5. sooshi says:

    I have the debate bug myself, and often have to remind people of the difference between a debate and a row :) Perhaps I’m too aggresive at times, I suspect so, though i don’t mean to be.

    As for the environment, there’s all sorts of evidence, from the hokey to the downright scary – I admit, I’m still on the fence. I find it difficult to fully believe that us human rabble can have such a profound effect on the planet.

    Global warming as they call it may be the result of our hobnail boot stamping all over the place or on the other hand simply a result of the planet’s constant state of flux.

    This planet will keep turning, disinterested in the little human drama we all take so seriously. Coastlines will change, landmasses, types of species, I wager it will go on long before we have moved on or away.

    That said, I try, to keep my carbon foot print down as much as I can. I’m not the best eco warrior out there by a long shot, but I’m not the cavalier litter dropper I might sound like.
    Whether we are responsible for the changes in climate, or not, I think it’s downright shameful how we treat the planet, and to top it off, almost suicidal.

    Stick almost any other animal in an enviroment of some sort, and they’ll pick a corner in which to poo, and keep the rest clean and disease free as best the can. Not us, no. From litter to landfill, we’re destructive, and dangerous, (we’re many other things too mind you, wonderful, sweet and kind, don’t get me wrong).

    Why do we need the environmental sword of damacles to spur us into action? Isn’t it enough we live here in the first place?

  6. Jim says:

    Yes, believe it or not this is the real “Jim” that Stephen mentions in his blog….Can’t believe I stumbled onto this. At least I made some sort of impression on the man (even if it was a very negative one it appears)…….My account of the day’s events and the dinner in particular differ slightly from Stephen’s…..More later if anyone expresses a desire to hear my side of the story….

    “Jim”

  7. Jim says:

    “Jim” again. First off, my real name is Bob (although Jim works just as well). Stephen asserts that he uses the alias to protect my anonymity. Thanks, Stephen…very kind of you. Early in his “blessay” he mentioned that he had visited the following states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. In the very next paragraph he mentions that he “has gone down a coal mine.” Of the aforementioned states only VA, WV, PA, KY, TN, & MD are currently coal producing states…the latter two with somewhat limited production by comparison. One could deduce from this that the visit to the coal mine was probably located in any of the previously mentioned four states: VA, WV, PA or KY. In the same paragraph he mentions that he “got drunk @ a distillery” (hopefully those blessed souls had more luck w/ an intoxicated Fry than I did!!!)….more than likely that would be in either KY or TN for those of you familiar w/ the US bourbon business…again process of elimination rules one of those out as well…further narrowing the state or commonwealth. With WV being the largest coal producing state in the Eastern US, one could well make the case that the logical deduction would be that Stephen’s visit to a coal mine was in fact a WV coal mine….. West “By God” Virginia…and indeed that would be a correct deduction. Voila!! The coal mine segment was filmed in the great Mountain State!!!

    Later in his “blessay” he mentions that “Jim” has a, “vested interest, a deeply vested interest, in this whole issue.” Furthermore he quotes, “It doesn’t of course make any difference that he is a very senior figure in a company that…..no, I want to protect his anonymity so I’ll just say that he is in the fossil fuels business.” Hell, Helen Keller could see that good ole JimBob was in the coal business in WV!!!

    So much for that. I’m not concerned with anonymity…..everyone in my business knows I’m the only one dumb/naive enough in our industry to allow a visit such as Stephen’s to occur in the first place. I’ll touch on that and the details leading up to his visit in my next post…..

Leave a Reply

AUDIO BOOK

Available from Apple iTunes Store.

Audio Book Link

Read Stephen’s previous blogs

The Dongle of Donald Trefusis

Dongle of Donald Trefusis

The new audio series of Professor Donald Trefusis.

Join CLUBFRY and make friends