“Science” is the pursuit of unbiased knowledge about the natural world and its phenomena through observation and experimentation, leading to understanding. It has a pivotal role in our modern society, but “scientists” are often trusted or distrusted on the basis of whether they tell us what we want to hear or not. Take the current pandemic and the development of vaccines to combat the Covid virus. Scientists have done a brilliant job of understanding how the virus works and developing vaccines based on the MRNA for its spike proteins to immunise us against it. I imagine fewer that one in a thousand people really understand the science behind this, but we accept the scientists’ knowledge and praise them for what they have done.
Contrast that with climate change… Here scientists have for decades been collecting evidence that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity. Unlike with the Covid vaccine, the basic science behind this is not complicated. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen dramatically since the start of the industrial revolution, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels. (fact): CO2 traps reflected infra-red light (heat) within the atmosphere, causing it to warm up (fact): wWe have observed an accelerating rise in mean global temperature for more than 100 years, with the six hottest years on record all being within the last decade. So we have a known cause, a known mechanism and an observed effect, which enables scientists to predict what will happen in the future if we carry on with business as usual.
The trouble with this is that people don’t like the implications that it has for their lifestyles. They don’t want to give up their fuel-driven cars or their foreign holidays. They don’t want to eat less meat or see wind turbines covering the countryside. This is all very understandable, but it also represents a psychological “denial” that the problem exists. So in this case they choose to distrust the scientists, ignore the science, and disparage the people who promote it, calling them “greenies” or “tree huggers” for example. But we should trust the scientists, acknowledge that climate change is real, and not disparage the so-called “greenies” because they want to do something about it. The people we should not trust are the political and professional climate change deniers who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. These are the people who will ultimately destroy our lifestyles if we let them get their way for their own short-term benefit. We must continue our efforts to find an acceptable “green” way forward that neither spoils everything that we cherish nor jeopardises the entire livelihood of future generations.
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