What Fascinates Me About the Climate Change Conversation

What Fascinates Me About the Climate Change Conversation June 27, 2012

…is how the whole thing is conducted, not in the language of science, but in the language of religion. My primary interest in the climate change debate is, if you will, “work-related” as a Catholic writer. What strikes about the whole thing is twofold. First, as somebody whose job is working with words, my alarm bells always go off when the language makes regular changes. So when we move from a war to eliminate WMDs to a war for Iraqi Freedom, I smell BS. Similarly, when we pass from global warming to climate change to global climate disruption, I smell a rat. The smell gets stronger when you get multiple cases of fraud and “You can’t see my data” from climate scientists.

But that said, I don’t claim to be a climate scientist and will bow to what the experts say when they get their story straight. Meanwhile, what fascinates me, not as a reader of science news, but as somebody who writes about religion, is how routinely the language of faith is used to discuss climate change. I am perpetually asked if I “believe in” climate change. Nobody asks if I believe in cosmic radiation, or Bernoulli’s principle or atomic fission or Carbon 12 or electrolysis. These are dealt with as matters of data. But climate change is dealt with, constantly, in the language of faith–or in the language of heresy. I find that fascinating.

So, for that matter, is one other “scientific” matter: evolution. People perpetually use the language of faith and heresy to discuss it, and attach all sorts of moral opprobrium and approval to beliefs about it. Nobody gets morally outraged if, say, a mismeasurement of the amount of hydrogen gas in Alpha Centauri occurs. You adjust your figures and move on. But massive religious significance is invested in evolution, as in climate change, and so the whole discussion becomes one about faith, not the measurement of time, space, matter and energy.

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