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On Global Warming: To "Believe" Or Not To "Believe": A Meditation

Updated on December 15, 2016
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


Hi BuffaloGal 1960!

Thank you for this question: Do you believe in global warming?: Do you think the numbers are falsified?

I want to start by saying that "belief" is overrated. Consider how the concept of belief functions in the public policy debates on global warming (climate change). The concept of belief serves to make global warming a matter of "faith," "atheism," or "agnosticism." We cannot seem to come to a universal understanding about whether or not the phenomena exists, despite the claim that is made by its "believers" that global warming is an objectively knowable, scientifically verifiable phenomena.

This just goes to show the truth of a basic idea of philosophers like David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Spinoza and others, which, in laymen's terms, goes something like this: We see what we want to see.

Anyhow, what makes the insistence on "belief" so insidious, is that it serves as an excuse for inaction. For example,---sticking to the United States---it is not until we came to "believe" that smoking was addictive and bad for our lungs did we see a dramatic drop in smoking in the 1990s and 2000s. Only after a scandal occurred involving evidence that the industry had known since the 1950s that smoking is addictive; and only after smoking became associated, in the public consciousness, with lung cancer; which is to say, only after the public-at-large came to "believe" that smoking is addictive and that it causes throat, lung, and mouth cancer, did the a significant plurality at least, of the American public take the action of quitting smoking.

The dynamic of "belief" is a kind of two-way exchange, is it not? It works a little something like this: A trusted authority (a lot of background history goes into making someone or group of people a publicly trusted authority) gives us information that we are supposed to accept as true, not only true but "written in stone," as it were (a la Moses coming down from that mountain with the ten commandments written on two stone tablets) -- so that the way the authority claims to have gotten the information is supposed to lend it and the authority conveying it to us, additional gravitas.

Now then, our belief or disbelief structures our subsequent actions as they pertain to the information the trusted authority gives us. In other words, we do not take action on the matter (whatever it may be) until we have established whether or not we "believe" the information given to us.

Former smokers, let me ask you this...

Didn't you already know smoking was addictive merely from your bodies' own reactions? Isn't it true that you developed a daily routine that included smoking at certain times? Isn't it true that when you "missed" a cigarette at a usually appointed time, you felt the effects, the intensified craving?

And by the way, did you really, in your heart-of-hearts, think that inhaling smoke into your once pink lungs was a good idea? Really? Did you really require an external belief-generating authority other than yourself to tell you that smoking probably wasn't a good thing? If so, we might do worse than to ask why that was; but that is a matter for another time and place to contemplate.

But here's a tiny hint: It has something to do with advertising. But hush! That's a secret!

Belief is overrated

This insistence on "belief" prevents us from asking ourselves uncomfortable questions. For the sake of argument, let us set aside the matter of global warming. If we do that, there might be room for a basic question: Are we (humanity, but especially we in the developed world) taking care of our planet, by any reasonable measure?

To ask the question is to answer it, am I right?

Again, let us set aside the consideration of any catastrophic implications to answer this basic question: Are we, as a matter of principle, taking care of planet Earth?

I think we all know the answer to that inquiry: No. We don't have to waste time counting the ways that we are not taking care of our planet. We're just not.

Slavoj Zizek

Once again, I find it helpful to reference the ideas of a Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. One time, I heard him pose a question that went something like this: Why is it that 'we' have such a hard time stirring ourselves to action on the environment?

Zizek trotted out a traditional answer that goes something like this: Human beings are too alienated from nature. We no longer feel a kinship with the other animals that crawl, walk, swim, or fly. We no longer feel like the lands, waters, winds, trees, and rocks share something with our souls; and so on and so forth.

Zizek, in his usual counterintuitive way, rejected that proposition, as it stands and, in fact, completely reversed it, turned it on its head, and so forth. What he says is that human beings are not alienated enough from nature. Human beings feel too harmoniously with nature, too synonymous with the natural world, too centrally integrated into it.

It is this feeling of complete, central integration with the natural world, says Zizek, creates in our hearts a feeling of overconfident complacency. We do not believe that we could be destroyed by nature "gone wild," as it were. *Actually, he says that there really is no such thing as "nature as such," but never mind, we can leave such abstractions for another time.

Zizek believes that if we could, somehow, achieve a sufficient degree of human alienation from nature, we would, paradoxically, take better care of our planet.

Let me piggyback upon that to say that, if, indeed, we could achieve a sufficient level of alienation from nature, we might very well come to regard the Earth, collectively, as we, as individuals, regard our individual possessions (car, boat, house, etc.); and then we might take care of our planet with the same egoistic pride that we invest into the upkeep of our individual possessions (car, boat, house, motorcycle, RV, and so on).

Okay, I'll leave it there.

Thanks for reading and take it easy!


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    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      4 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Hi there, LillyGrillzit!

      Thank you so much for the kind word about my scribbling. You are very generous.

      Take care!

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      4 years ago from Central Oregon

      I stand applauding over this scholarly essay/article. It's been a few minutes, and am feeling a little funny for clapping in the kitchen with my bird the only audience, who wishes I would just go to bed. This is excellent writing. Shared, voted, High-Fived.

    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      5 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thanks, Jeff!

    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 

      5 years ago from St. Louis

      Excellent analysis.

    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      5 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Wow, its Paraglider!

      It is certainly good to hear from you again; and you honor me by being so complimentary!

      Thank you so much! Take it easy.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 

      5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Good to see application of reason in this over-emotive field. Refreshing read.


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