This short essay has been written for anyone who would care to join me on a short journey of reading and thinking. I would welcome dialogue on this issue. The title of this piece is a bit unwieldy, but I wanted to yoke together those particular ideas right at the beginning.
By way of introduction, I will just say that over the last few decades I have guided postgraduate students in weighing up all kinds of research findings and evaluating them critically.
What I would like to do in this short piece is to link seven online statements, ranging from a tweet to a PhD thesis. It is almost intuitively obvious that a tweet leads itself to expressing an opinion, briefly, and that a PhD is a perfect vehicle for laying out an argument in detail, and defending it at length.
Here are the seven pieces:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive
Now the challenge in starting to talk about any of them is we need to avoid a few traps, such as (1) assuming that a certain phrase such as ‘global warming’ has the same meaning for you and me, (2) deciding that an issue is hopelessly polarised that it is impossible to progress the debate and (3) convincing ourselves that we are right before we even start talking.
So protect myself against those traps, let me declare at the outset, as modestly as I can, and as impartially as I can, that I am simply venturing to express a viewpoint that might be helpful. I just ask the reader to accept that my motivation is to contribute, not to persuade, criticise or defame anybody.
I should add, as I began this foray, that it might be valuable to recall the wonderful advice expressed in The argument culture by Deborah Tannen and Etzioni’s, The new golden rule. For example: Don’t demonise those with whom you disagree. I have tried not to do that in this piece. Don’t affront the deepest moral commitments of your opponents. One way to do that is to avoid taking the high moral ground, being sanctimonious or holier than thou. Talk less of rights, which are non-negotiable, and more of needs, interests and wants. This is highly pertinent, for in a previous professional role I had thought that human rights were, front and centre, one of the key issues to be resolved. As I transition to a different role now, I can perhaps begin thinking more deeply and clearly about the needs, interests and wants of a whole range of people. Leave some issues out. Yes, it helps to travel lightly, to focus on one or two things clearly, before turning one’s attention to something else. Engage in a dialogue of convictions. Don’t be so reasonable and conciliatory that you lose touch with a core of beliefs you feel passionately about. Again, this is sound advice. My conviction is that the planet earth is being transformed and challenged by mega-urbanisation, careless destruction of natural environments, and pollution. As a grandparent I would love for these trends to be moderated–or better, reversed– so that my two wonderful grand daughters will have a world they can love and appreciate as they grow up. At the same time I appreciate that there are hardworking people in extractive industries (coal, oil and gas) helping to supply an energy-hungry world. Their immediate needs and interests have to be considered.
My two grand daughters talking while drinking babicinos, November 2015
It is not my purpose now to provide a short cut and summarise all of the items I listed above. If you are interested, you can read them yourself. Nor am I going to tell you the conclusion I came to, for that would be giving you the punchline without you doing your own reading and thinking!
All I will venture to do for the moment is to offer these three reflections: (1) Australia is fortunate to have a Bureau of Meteorology that includes climate scientists such as Dr Blair Trewin, who writes often for The Conversation. The subject of his doctoral research was Extreme temperature events in Australia. (2) Since scientists are inclined to labour over long reports, and politicians to dash off quick tweets, it can be difficult to see any middle ground, where actions and events can be intelligently and dispassionately discussed, but that doesn’t mean that the effort to locate some space in which such dialogue is possible is a waste of time. (3) Professor Paul Cairney reminds us of the choice we have: we can bemoan policy makers’ quick decisions, or adapt to them by working out why they say and do certain things so that we, in turn, can understand the results of their fast thinking in context, and deal with that, regardlesss of whether we see it as denialism in a ‘post-truth’ society. It is harder to try to see the whole picture than it is to cling to the elephant’s leg and swear, hand on heart, that the animal does not have a tail. To evaluate and compare ideas, it helps to value practitioner experience, but there is a strategic choice to be made. We need to be clear about whether we want to be honest brokers, who present some evidence and leave it that. Or are we seeking influence? To seek influence is to get our hands dirty by beginning to issue emotional appeals, and manipulating people in an effort to persuade, in the knowledge that people do make emotional decisions.
Choosing the most effective technique in a difficult debate can be the beginning of a slippery slope. We may end up being as manipulative as those we criticise. I accept the legitimacy of democratically elected leaders saying and doing unpopular things. Yet, as a citizen, I think it is reasonable to try to encourage others to frame a contentious issue in a more constructive way so that we all benefit, now and into the future.
“This is what is likely to work in your context. This is the kind of evidence that seems relevant”. To what extent is this a reasonable starting point when dealing with politicians who deny that planet earth has a problem, and that all that counts is the economy, protecting jobs and all of that?