Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hello and welcome, Phoebe

Phoebe was born yesterday. She is my granddaughter.  We are very grateful for her and for the joy she brings and the future promise she represents.

How will she look back on how we have discharged our responsibilities concerning the great issue of global warming?  All around, people are saying the danger is that we pollute and wreck the planet with carbon. I rather think that the danger for Phoebe lies elsewhere.

Perhaps it is that we allow observational science to be overwhelmed by what might be.  Perhaps we have allowed the predicted worst case scenario to dominate what we deduce from what we have observed.

In the absence of certainty, have we allowed our fear of the unknown to drive us to false certainties?  Have we been too ready to embrace a catastrophic future in the hope that at least we then know what we have to do?

Do we believe that, in the face of uncertainty, doing something is better than doing nothing?

Have we defended 'science' at all costs, even when the evidence shows it to be flawed?  Have we trashed the reputations of others who doubt and cavil because we believe we have a noble cause?

Have we created public policy because of our desire to be seen to lead decisively in the face of a possible serious threat?  Have we clung to that policy in the face of assaults and enemies when the original evidence has begun to look more uncertain?

If the answers to all these question is found to be in the positive - and increasingly I believe they are - then there is real cause to fear for the future for Phoebe.

If we have been sloppy with observations and called it settled science; if we have appealed to the authority of the consensus and not the authority of facts; if we have allowed soothsayers murmuring 'Catastrophe!' to prompt us to run like headless chickens; if we have sullied the public realm with failing and baseless policy which leads future citizens to lose trust in government and public service - if we have done all these things then there is real cause to fear for the future for Phoebe.

The anchors of rational life and conduct will have been turned upside down.

But in the face of all these dangers, my dear Phoebe, there is one thing which gives me reason for confidence.

Your parents will not easily succumb to these false allures afflicting our present time or future times.  I believe your tender and formative years - and your future - are in good hands.

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