Erik Larson

May 1, 2010

Not Equal As In Math (and also not really equal at all)

Senator Lindsey Graham assures us that he cares equally for the immigration and climate change issues. This is manifestly an odd statement, even allowing for the colloquial quality and inexactness of much natural language. There are all sorts of reasons one should try harder to be more worried about one of these than the other: if you were a catastrophe type of the Gore stripe, for instance, you’d presumably care a helluva lot more about failing to address the warming planet than you would a political issue like immigration reform. (Global catastrophic disaster versus an ongoing issue with undocumented immigrants, I mean.)

If, on the other hand, you were skeptical—like the majority of Americans—about the veracity of the Global Warming notion in the first place(the hypothesis that the warming of the Earth is or will become destructive, and that it is human-caused), you’d likely care more about the socio -economic-political consequences of the immigration issue than speculative scientific views about possible outcomes driven by folks with one foot in atmospheric science and the other in politics. Not much use getting worked up about catastrophes that aren’t really going to happen.

And so the issue here is not Graham’s implausible ceteris paribus exhortation to curry favor with voters (which means: everyone who was listening to him), but rather a somewhat deeper issue about science, that it’s still and I suppose necessarily, and essentially, about what’s true, and so our degree of belief in scientific claims is largely still what matters when determining how much we care. Senator Graham, for his part, just cares a damn lot, and equally so. But for the rest of us, whether we believe, in some robust apolitical sense, that a claim is factual or not, weighs heavily on how much value we give issues that rely on these claims for their moral or ethical force. It determines, in other words, how much we’ll care about them.

Coda

Fair readers of this blog, you’ve now been armed with the tools of reason. The next time a Global Warming Alarmist accuses you of not caring, cheerfully agree that, yes, in fact you don’t care much . And the reason of course is that you don’t have a strong belief in the factual claims, and hence the issue itself is a dubious recipient of your care. (When this elicits howls of protest about taking care of the planet, tell them that you DO care about THIS issue. Then you’ll have owned the part that matters—the environment does require our care—and jettisoned the stupid politics of alarmist science, pushing the speculative theory part back to the controlling alarmist, keeping the General Environment issue that she wanted to invoke, shiftily, as proof of your moral turpitude. If she then counters with something about “leaving it to the scientific experts”, point out that many experts actually disagree on this issue (which is quite true), and ask which experts we should “leave it to”. This will likely elicit a pathetic response about “many more think it’s true than not”, to which you inquire about whether scientific facts are properly established by popular vote. If this leads into the weeds, just ask the alarmist to name another scientific theory that is considered established in the same sense as the Global Warming Catastrophe theory. This is a devastating question, because if she’s honest, she’ll have to abandon hard science completely, and the discussion will end up with something squishy like economic theory. At this point you’ve won, though the Alarmist may hang on for a while if only out of stubbornness. Don’t worry about this, though, because you’re a wascally wabbit for the control-minded alarmist at this point, and even if she grumbles or blusters a bit, she’ll soon sulk away to find some easier target. But it won’t be you, not anymore. Because you’re armed. You’re ready. Really.)