The Unfortunate Nature of the Discourse on Climate Change
The recent infamous decision by Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Accord, which is the result of a global effort to combat climate change, once again displayed the current administration’s willingness to abandon genuine and generous global leadership, and pointed to the unfortunate nature of the discourse on climate change itself.
Those of us who harbor no predispositions to support the course on which the current president has taken the United States realize that the cost of abandoning the Paris Accord extends well beyond worsening the state of the global climate. Just as importantly, the American reversal will inexorably lead to the deterioration of the world’s diplomatic climate, sending a clear message around the globe. This message is primarily one of renewed isolationism, admitting unashamedly that the United States’ present leadership is prepared to go it alone, and proudly so. Any intellectual frameworks and positions that have up to date been devised to justify the administration’s espoused isolationist stance must fall short of convincing anybody capable of even a perfunctory analysis of world affairs. Indeed, in today’s interconnected economy signified by extensive internal trade, which has, counter to Donald Trump’s claims, been a blessing for America and the world, the argument for American isolationism must predominantly rest on emotion, not reason.
Rejecting the Paris Accord is, however, also an unintended message to the world that the United States cannot currently be fully counted on as a partner characterized by its continuity and credibility. That will make future cooperation, whether on climate or entirely non-related issues, poignantly harder.
One might also note that the Iran Deal, yet another agreement which has been, in my view with considerable justification, questioned, remains in place. Here the political calculation seems palpable. While the fallout of climate change will most intensely be borne by future generations, the effects of ensuing political instability in the Middle East could be felt immediately and thus taunt this very administration. It is also possible that realizing that many of his “material” promises (such as the return of manufacturing jobs) cannot be kept, Donald Trump chose to give his base an emotional victory instead.
Let me lastly, as is the duty of any serious intellectual, direct some critical analysis at both those who “believe” and those who “deny” climate change. What an unfortunate conundrum and false dichotomy have we been thrown into where one can believe or deny, all on the background of scientific enquiry which by its nature precludes one to hold either position.
There is good evidence that the climate is changing. It is also common sense that human industrial activity and burning of fossil fuels has negative impact on the environment, whether through heating up the atmosphere or otherwise. But the exact degree to which human activity is to sole cause of such heating as well as the degree to which human efforts can reverse the trend, as far as I am concerned, should be the topic of evidence-based discourse where various hypotheses can be proposed and tested. Instead, it has become a cul-de-sac where honest disagreement and willingness to learn are rare commodities. A committed scientist neither denies nor believes. He merely retains hypotheses that have withstood numerous tests. Surely, that the Earth is a geoid was also once a hypothesis that today has attained the ranks of certainty; it is indisputable truth. Yet are we prepared to treat what we know about climate change and the exact extent of human complicity in it with similar certainty?
Ultimately, there are reasons to pollute less, embrace renewable energy sources, and simply treat the planet with more respect regardless of whether or not human activity is the chief cause of climate change. It follows from basic human humility.