Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Penultimate thoughts on Goethe and environmentalism

I say "penultimate," because I am sure I will chime in on this subject again. Here I simply want to mention one of the main reasons why I am out of sync with "environmental humanism" and the like. This discipline, such as it is, is an outcome of the present climate debates, in particular the role of humans in causing damage to the earth. I do not deny that humans have in some sense ravaged the earth, but I find that something like human hubris is in play in attributing planetary change to humans. What is next? The cosmos?

Climate variation factors
I know that I am in very small company, but when I am told that 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is “real, man-made and dangerous” (actually it was President Obama who use that expression), I respond: “Well, in 1600, 98 percent of scientists pilloried Galileo for claiming that the sun did not move around the earth.” Really, doesn’t anyone get suspicious when everybody is of the same opinion? There is something hypnotic about that 97 percent figure, endlessly replayed.

Among thinking people there really is a difference of opinion on global warming. For instance, a poll of members of the American Meteorology Society found only 52 percent agree that humans are the cause. I know, I know: figures can be manipulated for any outcome, but the following quote, to be found on the Geological Society of America website, might cause people to stand back a bit from the claim that humans are so powerful: “Modern society struggles with the implications of climate change and now ponders if humans actually alter climate. Anthropocene forces us to consider the implications of sending the Earth system into a completely new domain driven by our actions. Does humanity operate on such a grand scale that we drive Earth processes in ways that overshadow tectonic, climatic, and eustatic processes?”

While Kate Rigby asserts that there is a divide between science and the humanities that obscures our current perilous situation, scientific researchers are part of the same social environment in which we all live. They depend on society for their justification and relevance. They have hit pay dirt, publication-wise, with the concept of human-induced environmental change. This is not surprising, as the modern world is in many respects scarey, and the public is simply bombarded by the media with scares: vaccines, GMOs, the toxins in crayons, and so on. Color me skeptical.

My take-away: more caution in claiming that Goethe would be a precursor of environmental humanism.

Photo credit: Meteorologyclimate.com

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