The social construction of climate change

7 12 2009

This week has seen the thin veneer of rational discourse about carbon reduction targets and financial implications of climate change responses truly blown apart as the so-called ‘climate change debate’ moves out of the realm of scientific peer-reviewed research and into brazen name-calling. Near libellous assaults are volleyed from all sides as the language of science drowns in the cacophony of pseudo-religious idiom – ‘denier’, ‘evangelist’, ‘convert’.

This week’s Spectator makes the audacious claim that it is the ‘still, small voice of calm’ amidst the madness, and yet liberally sprinkles it’s varied contributions with lines like ‘climate change has mutated from a debate into a catechism’, and ‘the climate change debate in Britain exhibits the hallmarks of a collective craze. Asking dispassionate questions is not sacrilegious’. I find this use of language fascinating. Particularly in Western democracies, and even more so in the Boardroom, the moral ground is won by appearing to offer the most rational argument, delivered unemotionally and with reference to ‘objective evidence’. This, after all, is the foundation of scientific discourse.  But clearly we cannot step outside of, or ‘bystand’ such a discourse, whilst we comment upon it. Whatever language we choose to use – bitter recrimination, zealous advocate, logical dispassionate – we are taking a position and constructing an argument.

Our choices – about how we analyse and interpret the scientific data, how we choose to act upon what we learn – however objective they may seem, are still founded upon deep-rooted and socially constructed belief systems. And it’s only when we are willing to question our own assumptions publicly that we can honestly participate in this debate.

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