Thursday, September 25, 2008

Green Forum Is Not Representative

I really don't mean to turn this into the Dan Amiri blog, so I am definitely asking that others talk about things that I'm not interested in, as I'm absolutely sure I'm not eclectic enough to entertain everyone. There is, however, a pressing concern which has brought me out of my voluntary hibernation: the latest Notre Dame Forum on Energy and the Environment and all things Green, and more specifically, the implicit endorsement of a great hoax.

Perhaps "hoax" is a strong word, but I use it only to counter what I peceived as ignorant arrogance on that stage. Another phrase that I used with my wife in my frustration with the Forum was "intellectual propaganda." I'm not a psychologist nor a sociologist, but let it be enough to say that one of the speakers actually drew an explicit connection between WWII American propaganda (e.g., those which encouraged families to ration their supplies and work in factories to help the war effort against the Nazis) and what America must do today to save the world from global warming and oppression of the poor.

I digress.

Man-made global warming is a scientific theory which attempts to explain the correlations that have been drawn between carbon dioxide and a gradual rise in average global temperatures. Just as valid though not nearly as well-publicized are those theories which attempt to explain recent warming in the light of--no pun intended--more stellar proportions, i.e., the sun. What we have here is scientific disagreement. The problem is that many have accepted global warming as fact, so much so that what was once the presentation of a theory, spearheaded by one man, Al Gore, has in effect become the manifesto of entire nation's implicit policy on the environment. This is absoutlely unacceptable. If we to follow the suggestions of those four panelists at the Forum, we must spend at least $100 billion if are to even come close to averting what they predict to be nothing short of hell on earth--though I promise you it will still be snowing in 2050.

What irks me most, however, is that every panelist agreed that we had to spend billions of dollars to avoid a global crisis. Yes, not one panelist offered a dissenting opinion; not one panelist suggested that undergoing the vast amount of effort and capital might actully be detrimental to the world; not one panelist offered an opinion that gave deeper insight into some possible problems we might be facing. Instead, the panelists speculated about all the different infrastructure and power grids and what kind of renewable energy that would be used to power the country in 50 years. In short, not one panelist was there to keep the rest accountable to reality and to the real-world problems that this vast implementation of "environment-friendly" policies would cause.

I am not "in-the-know" enough to be able to tell you why this is the case. But if it is because Notre Dame and the American community has bought into a scientific theory in wholesale, without actually questioning its merit, we have a serious problem. More specifically, if Notre Dame is to be a place of critical engagement, it must not fall victim to the popular tides that sweep this country. It must stand amidst the waves of opinion in order to seek out that truth.

Notre Dame has failed in many respects to do so, the forum being only the most recent example. As long as we continue to seek popular approval, to define ourselves by popular criteria, we will fail to be the institution that seeks truth in the context of objectivity and rationality.

4 comments:

Laura said...

I'm not a scientist, so I can't challenge you on your theory of global warming discussion. However, I would like to point out that there are several good reasons beyond the patented Save Our Children From Burning Up argument for Notre Dame to consider how to deal with climate change. First: we acknowledge our human role as stewards of creation, and if there is a chance that we are destroying the world we are supposed to protect, it is necessary and right to examine that. Furthermore, consider other benefits of becoming more "green," such as an economy insulated from oil price shocks, a foreign policy unclouded by dependence on oil, and Russia and others humbled by a decreasing flow of petrodollars. Think about the numbers of new jobs in maintaining energy facilities, not just for engineers but for the lower-middle class, who could discover a new era of blue collar jobs as technicians. Imagine people investing capital *inside* the United States for once. Less dependence on oil is not a silver bullet that will simultaneously fix the problems we have with our economy, foreign policy, and domestic poverty, but it could do some good in all of these areas. It will be a long term process, especially in today's economy, and of course $100 billion for anything but stabilization and the military is out of the question right now. Eventually, though, this process will take place, and we need to think now about the best way for it to happen. Before you judge Notre Dame for drinking too much KoolAid, consider the variety of benefits going green could bring.

Dan Amiri said...

I understand your points, and I would agree that there are benefits to going "green." I long nothing more than to reduce our dependence on oil and make safe, renewable energy cheap and effective. I myself desire to drive a low-carbon-chugging car one day and regularly practice some practical conservation around the house.

However, it seems only natural that a discussion of "going green" would involve some of the negative and practical side-effects of such an endeavor. Such a discussion would include people who challenge popular opinion and keep the others honest to their speculation. Because Notre Dame failed to include such a person, it was, properly speaking, not a forum of ideas but a platform for speculation and fear-mongering.

Laura said...

I'm not sure I would call it fear mongering, but from what I hear, it wasn't a true forum, either. I agree that alternative points of view deserve a voice. Furthermore, they really need to officially cancel classes- it sucked to have to leave half an hour in.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't believe there are Notre Dame students that actually doubt global warming.

In this case, giving the "other side" a voice would be just as dumb as giving Creationists a voice during a conference on the latest research on evolution.