Let Rational Discourse Drown out the Testeria

by Cheryl on March 16, 2010

in Climate change, Climate science, The media

Years ago I worked for the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia. BC was in the process of registering midwives and one of the School’s professors, a midwife herself, was among three experts interviewed by a talk radio show. The two other experts were male doctors who vehemently opposed the idea. The professor later told me that she felt the doctors were being testerical.

I had never heard of the word ‘testerical’ before and it intrigued me. I knew that hysteria was coined in the 19th century to describe a condition experienced by women, primarily those well-to-do confined to a life of boredom. Some WWI soldiers, who couldn’t handle being stuck in trenches, were also diagnosed with what doctors could only describe as hysteria at the time. If hysteria is a condition experienced by those who feel trapped and not in control of their situation, testeria, I believe, is the condition where one feels in control and is terrified of losing it.

Much ado has been made of climate science of late. People who call themselves deniers or sceptics of climate change claim that the recent hacking of emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, and minor errors found in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, are proof positive that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by a clique of scientists, the purpose of which is unclear.

Rather than provide advice on improving the process, climate change deniers are, for the most part, suggesting that we ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’.

Any opportunity to improve the IPCC Reports is always welcome. Any opportunity to review the data, improve the research, limit mistakes and inaccuracies is encouraged. The IPCC has expressed a strong willingness to improve transparency, demonstrated in inviting an independent panel to review the recent mistakes and accusations. Rather than support and applaud this action, many who disagree with the IPCC findings dismiss this attempt as disingenuous.

Science is rational, curious and cautious. The response from those who deny climate change, certainly anthropogenic climate change, is neither rational, curious nor cautious. Scientists speak in terms of probability, based on findings collected to date. Climate change deniers speak in absolutes. They believe in something and cherry pick data to support their belief.

I respond to deniers. They contribute to our public discourse, including newspaper op-ed pieces, podcasts, radio programs and online media comment sections. I’ve been advised to ignore them and I would if those who respect the IPCC reports dominated the public conversation on this issue.

Unfortunately, deniers and sceptics quite often take over the conversation, which is affecting how the broader community regards climate change. Will more rational voices prevail? Over time, I believe they will. The problem of course is that we don’t have much time. We need governments to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and governments are less inclined to do so if the voting majority loses its appetite for climate action.

Climate change denial is not surprising. Whenever the status quo is challenged, some will go to whatever lengths to keep things the way they are. Many American civil rights activists in the 1950s and 60s were spat at, cursed, beaten and some were even killed, simply for calling for the end of racial segregation. Members of Tommy Douglas’ government had their lives threatened when attempting to legislate universal health care for Saskatchewan residents in the 1960s. Opponents warned of big brother watching patients through hidden cameras in examination rooms. It was predicted that marriage would fall apart once gays and lesbians were allowed to marry. These claims, of course, were ludicrous but they are typical whenever anyone calls for change.

The more that concerned citizens lend their rational voices to the climate action debate and call for positive change, the more the broader public will do the same or at least accept action on the issue. Then people can see deniers for who they really are – a tiny minority of people scared of change, desperate not to let go. In a word – testerical.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan March 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

If hysteria is a condition experienced by those who feel trapped and not in control of their situation, testeria, I believe, is the condition where one feels in control and is terrified of losing it.

One of the key ways in which I think people feel as though they are in control is in terms of how many innocent third parties end up getting affected by their political and economic choices. While it might seem that financial transactions only really involve buyer and seller, economic and ecological interconnectedness mean that this is rarely the case. That’s why I think libertarianism has ceased to be very ‘liberating’ as a political doctrine.

If we are free to make choices that affect only willing parties, but constrained from harming innocent others, the scope of freedom which is morally defensible shrinks a lot.

Tristan March 17, 2010 at 10:10 am

Libertarianism is dead. Unfortunately, our entire political system is built on moderated versions of libertarianism. “Liberty” is a libertarian notion – so long as we grasp freedom as liberty, we are thinking in a way fundamentally at odds with grasping ourselves as part of a complex community/ecology/catastrophe.

What would be an alternative? The obvious alternative to Mill is Rousseau (although the dates don’t line up – even Hegel predates Mill! And Kant is between Hegel and Rousseau, both historically and in the genesis of anti-libertarian liberalism.

What is essential about Rousseau? Freedom is not freedom from compliance, freedom from society, freedom from taking up obligations towards others – freedom is doing your duty in civil society. And what do we do with libertarians – those who refuse to actively take part, and whose inaction poisons the planet (for Rousseau – state)? They must be gotten rid of.

What would getting rid of those interests which do not, could not identify with the general will today mean? The cheap answer is the terror – all the carbon criminals to the guillotine! But more seriously – what justifies, if it justifies, the terror – the poorly discriminated killing of suspected infidels? Two things: first, the virtue of the revolutionary state, and second, the state of emergency caused by the real counter revolutionary terrorist operations being perpetrated by every other nation in Europe against france during the 1790s. So, quite clearly, neither justifications currently obtain.

What would a more reasonable, liberal version of terror look like today? I venture to say it would look something like the massive nationalization of assets from those actors who are climate criminals. If an asset is not managed for the good of all by the private market, then it must be managed by the state. Of course, the virtue of the state is not optional – but this is what we should demand from any genuinely democratic government. And “virtuous” does not mean virtuous on Rousseau’s terms – it would mean what it means on our terms, which means modern Canadian values of tolerance, free speech, multi-cultural, etc… The universality of virtue would be singular only on universal problems, and climate change is the only universal problem today. In fact, it may be the only truly universal political problem to ever exist.

Milan March 17, 2010 at 10:22 am

The response from those who deny climate change, certainly anthropogenic climate change, is neither rational, curious nor cautious.

While this is true from the perspective of humanity as a whole (including future generations), it seems quite possible that the actions of climate change deniers are rational within their particular circumstances.

Note, for instance, how the professional organization of petroleum geologists was one of the last scientific bodies to recognize the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Unfortunately, there are many circumstances in which individuals and groups can behave both rationally and cautiously, in relation to their own interests, while simultaneously undermining the long-term interests of humanity and the planet as a whole.

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