Author Archives: Cheryl

Let Rational Discourse Drown out the Testeria

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.