Archive for February 24th, 2010

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Honest or Broken?

February 24, 2010

Roger will surely be pleased to see that the New Scientist has published an editorial suggesting that “Honesty is the best policy for climate scientists.” Given the language, the editorial could’ve been written by Roger himself.

Honesty, of course, is the best policy. Where Roger likes to offer the pragmatic argument for honesty — and shucks, there sure has been a lot of political crap floating to the surface to demonstrate his point — I tend to emphasize slightly different, non-pragmatic reasons for advocating honesty. Namely, I think we have an obligation not to be dishonest, even if it won’t end up badly for us.

(One issue that this raises, of course, is whether there was ever actually any substantial dishonesty afoot in the IPCC. I don’t want to go there.)

Rather, the editors at New Scientist make some provocative claims about environmentalists.

FOR many environmentalists, all human influence on the planet is bad. Many natural scientists implicitly share this outlook. This is not unscientific, but it can create the impression that greens and environmental scientists are authoritarian tree-huggers who value nature above people. That doesn’t play well with mainstream society, as the apparent backlash against climate science reveals.

I couldn’t agree more, though I disagree with the reasoning. Just as it is not the case that honesty is the best policy because dishonest practices may have negative political outcomes, so too is it not the case that holding the above-outlined position is wrong because it doesn’t play well with mainstream society.

The view that the planet is good, and that human interference is somehow bad, is just a naive environmentalist view. That’s what makes the view problematic. Sure, lots of people hold it, but let’s face it, there are a lot of unreflective environmentalists, just as there are a lot of unreflective anti-environmentalists. That it doesn’t play well is no reason to reject the view. There are better reasons to reject it. What makes the view wrong is its romanticism about nature. I’ll be kicking this theme around quite a bit over the next few months, but I thought I’d point out that the planet can actually be quite hostile. View a few pictures like these to remember that.