Friday, September 17, 2010

changing perspective

Facts don't change your perspective, your perspective changes your facts.  Seems so axiomatic to me, that I use it to summarize the defining mantra for this blog.

Not surprisingly, when I use this statement in class with my students, I discover that it is both a mantra and not axiomatic.   The irony being that the blog exists to both challenge prevailing mantras in environmentalism and to examine all things axiomatic.

So let's examine the construct of data and changing perspective.

Bjorn Lomborg provides an excellent starting point and example.  Recently, the media was quick to point out that Lomborg had undergone a road to Damascus conversion and one of the world's leading deniers was suddenly a believer in AGW.

Notwithstanding the fact that Lomborg has never denied climate change, nor human agency (not a denier then) but merely had the temerity to point out that climate change is
  • not a pressing issue,
  • not our most important issue
  • nor anything we can do anything about (an economic pragmatist maybe?)
the media and warmist, alarmist activists of all stripes gleefully sent emails quoting his conversion as smug proof that an Icon of contrariness had recanted.  (Not enough to be admitted into their inner sanctum of smug self-righteousness of course, but enough to vindicate their vilification of him since his landmark refutation of the Litany).

Well. I  still haven't read his new book for myself but it appears Lomborg has published an op-ed to clarify the remarks in the Guardian.  Apparently, it appears comments by Lomborg that climate change is real and human agency is a factor, were, how shall we say, embellished?

All that has changed in Lomborg's view is that we now have the possibility and the capability of addressing climate change not through taxation nor carbon trading by government's (a delusional prospect fraught with fraud, self-interest and unsustainable suppositions) but, rather, by technological innovation and advancement in new energy -- not just alternate fuels but new means of energy generation.

This is a lot closer to my understanding of his views -- and if he is echoing Schellenberger and Nordhaus, he is reflecting a strong emerging, adaptive management approach to climate policy also advocated by Pielke Jr. which does much to shift the policy debate to energy policy and seeks to leave the ideological debate over climate policy behind.  Again, all of these are policy people discussing how the climate science has been politicized within public policy.

The distinction between science research and public policy has been a subject of high contention within environmentalism for some time: the debate over climate change has served to both polarize and exacerbate viewpoints.  Post Copenhagen and post-Climategate, there is now considerable movement to move beyond the ideological posturing -- sadly not all parties are embracing this shift in dialogue as being constructive.

Which brings us to the central issue: why don't facts change people's perspective, whereas a change in perspective can cause a change in the "facts" as we know them? 

The answer is in our ideology, which in turn is a function of how we think and why.  Luckily, there are those who seek to improve our understanding of how and why we think like we do and why we do or do not act rationally in response to facts that accord or contradict our perspective. 

Resonance and dissonance.  Leadership is resonating with people.  Good leaders empower people to make changes by visioning a perspective that resonates with their ideas, fits the facts as people understand them and, offers them hope for improvement.  

The problem with environmentalism is it does none of these things.  Instead it evokes:
  • an elitist mantra
  • enforced by appeals to authority
  • requiring conformity with dictated changes 
  • that fit the facts of those enforcing the change and
  • not the reality of those suffering the imposition of change.