The Tyranny of Consensus

It’s not difficult to get emotional about the issue of climate change.  Indeed if you aren’t in some way emotional about it then you are presumably either in denial or have chosen to ignore the debate on the subject entirely.

Having been yelling in what was initially a wilderness of awareness, those who argue that the climate of planet Earth is changing, possibly irreversibly and almost certainly as the result of the actions of mankind, now hold the majority position.

The scientific ‘consensus’ is near overwhelming.  Those who hold a sceptic position are now on the fringes of the debate.

However in the process something ugly has happened.  Some of the ‘oppressed’ have now become the ‘oppressors’.

Oppressors?  In so far as the sceptic lobby has been labelled ‘climate-change deniers,’ yes.  The other group similarly labelled as deniers that comes readily to mind are the ‘holocaust deniers’.

I fear we are forgetting what it is to tolerate dissent, even though it be dissent from a liberal consensus position.

I feel the need to make my position here clear.  I have visited Jewish museums.  I have seen the photographs of the piles of shoes, of spectacles, of bodies, of living corpses emaciated beyond easy comprehension.  I have no doubt that the holocaust happened.  I have no reason to doubt it.  Nor am I overly interested in numbers.  Does the fact that six million died make it three times as obscene as if two million had died?  It would have been an obscenity if just one person had been abused in so foul a manner.

Rather than having a desire to silence those who question the Holocaust I welcome them.  Each and every one affords us another opportunity to present the evidence once again, to bring it to people anew.  Consensus, like apologies, risks being the start of a process of forgetting.  There are some things that should not be forgotten and the Holocaust is one such.  It’s a battle to remember we should fight every day, not just for the sake of the Jews but for all of us.  Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, gays, Socialists… Armenians, Hutus, Cambodians…  Partitioning the dead into groups so we can forget that they were people just like us, who loved their families, just like us, who had hopes and dreams, just like us, is a betrayal of their humanity and ours.

But I digress if only to explore the notion of a tyranny of consensus.

I disagree with those who question climate change but I welcome the fact that they do.

Those who participate in the debate should though at least be honest; be frank if they receive funding, even indirectly, from vested interests; be clear that when they represent themselves as scientists they do so because their discipline gives them more insight into the issue than the next person (I respect food scientists understanding of food, but please don’t use your professorship of kitchen hygiene to imply any additional authority when it comes to climate change.)

That caveat aside let us debate!  Let us not try to silence dissent from the consensus.  It’s only a few decades since those of us who accepted the notion of climate change were similarly derided so it ill becomes us to in our turn deride others.

Any notion, however accepted (all the more so if it is unquestioningly accepted) should be constantly put to the test, kept under never-ending review.  It benefits the supporters of that idea as much as its dissenters.

I fear no challenge to the consensus on climate change for this simple reason; if we are wrong what have we to lose?  We spend perhaps 2 or 3 per cent of global GDP on clean energy, get greater energy security, cleaner air and a healthier population and an extra boost to scientific research in any number of areas in the process.

If the doubters are wrong then, perhaps, the human race and many other species becomes extinct.  I prefer my downside to yours.

Indeed most of the doubters happily insure their houses and endorse the precautionary principle that underlies the climate change believers position by paying a few pounds a year lest something they hope never happens does.  It’s not so very much to ask that we should do the same for our planet.

But doubt away please – and we’ll join the fray every time.

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