Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
People who believe there’s an urgent problem behave accordingly. Climatologist Michael Mann plays games.
“Watch what people do, don’t listen to what they say, just watch what they do.”
So quoth environmental activist David Suzuki in a 1990 interview. It’s sensible advice. After all, anyone can say anything – but much of what gets uttered every single day is, in fact, untrue.
Con artists paint rosy pictures in a deliberate attempt to deceive. Those suffering from noble cause corruption believe that their own lies don’t count. People who have access to only part of the information (which is most of us, most of the time) can reach faulty conclusions.
As the late physicist Richard Feynman observed in a speech about scientific integrity, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” We all have blind spots. Which means that what we say may or may not be reliable.
So what happens when we judge climate activists by an actions-speak-louder-than-words standard? What happens when we turn off the sound and watch what they do?
Michael Mann is as controversial and prominent a climate scientist as you could ask for. Three years ago I examined some of his public statements and concluded that he “isn’t the kind of scientist we’d want our kids to grow up to be.” In my view, he’s an over-the-top political partisan, a bully, and a loudmouth.
Earlier this week, Mann turned down an opportunity to debate the eminently credentialed climate skeptic, Roy Spencer. Yesterday, on Twitter, Mann explained that “Getting on a debate stage signals that, while you might disagree, you respect the position of your opponent.”
Set aside Mann’s rationalization. Notice what he has done.
The purpose of a debate is to inform the public. A debate allows citizens and voters to hear different points of view so that they can make up their own minds.
In a democracy, it’s what ordinary people think that matters. Convincing politicians doesn’t begin to be good enough.
The American public has, for the past seven years, placed fighting global warming at the bottom of Congress’s list of priorities. There is currently nowhere near sufficient public support for the sort of wrenching, expensive, dramatic responses to climate change people such as Mann tell us are necessary.
If Mann truly fears for our future, if he sincerely believes a climate crisis is upon us, would he turn his back on a chance to persuade his fellow citizens of this fact?
Would he not be taking advantage of every possible opportunity to emphasize the urgency of our predicament? That is how people behave when there’s a real crisis, when they’re fighting a real war.
Never mind what Michael Mann says. Notice what he does.