Emotional knowledgeGuest author | May 20, 2013
The other day I was listening to an interview on C-Span of one Chris Hedges, an American journalist and author specialising in American politics and society. It was a very interesting interview about the signs of collapse of the American Empire. Hedges is remarkable for his ability to easily quote and cite many sources as he outlines his reasons for predicting the fall of the Empire. He is eloquent, well-versed in historical examples and, in a quiet and calm way, very provocative.
He talks about the mainstream media’s lack of investigation into contentious government policies and social issues.
He is also deeply concerned about the environment and the demise of the planet through overpopulation, pollution and catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW). “The science is in” regarding CAGW, he states, going on to describe the heroic advocacy of Jim Hansen, former head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA.
The question I found myself asking was how can such an intelligent fellow be caught up in such a blinkered approach to climate science? There are clues in Hedges’ own writings. He writes a weekly column at www.truthdig.com and one of these, “The Myth of Human Progress”, is summarised on the index page thus:
The mounting distortions of climate change and the rapid depletion of natural resources have done little to blunt the self-destructive notion of ceaseless expansion. The road we are on points toward human extinction.
The basic tenet of the column is that the ‘power elite’ have spent 500 years conquering and raping natural resources and will not stop any time soon, therefore climate change will kill us all.
The first part of that equation is intellectual knowledge (of history), whereas the conclusion is emotional knowledge (of science). The conclusion is perhaps wishful thinking. Certainly it is confirmation bias because it fits with the theory Hedges expounds that mankind is bad and going to hell. I don’t write the man off, though – he has clear and interesting observations of politics and society through history and extrapolates these to project various calamities such as the imminent collapse of American society, politics and finances.
I would venture that he has adopted his CAGW position for various reasons:
it fits with his world view that mankind is polluting the planet
he accepts the authority on the subject (e.g. Hansen)
he believes the headlines of doom
he hasn’t investigated the data himself
he has strong confirmation bias in what he reads and hears
he does not stop to consider that AGW might not be as catastrophic as he imagines
he adopts certitude and slams the door on any debate — “the science is in”
That is why I say it is based on emotional knowledge. Essentially it is his belief. But his intellectual knowledge on the subject is apparently lacking.
Put facts before fame
The predictions of doom from the CAGW camp are failing to eventuate. Arctic ice comes and goes. Antarctic ice waxes and wanes. Sea levels and ocean temperatures have been static for ten years. Land surface temperatures have been static for 17 years. The tropospheric hot spot upon which climate modelling relies has failed to materialise. The ACE index (accumulated cyclone energy) has been very low in recent years. The recent US drought cannot be attributed to global warming as there has been none. It was neither unprecedented nor the worst ever. Mass migrations due to climate change are not happening as predicted. Pacific atolls stubbornly refuse to be overwhelmed.
So, one should not be overawed by men of such intellectual prowess, wit and memory when they dogmatically insist on their irrevocable emotional knowledge. It is simply a lack of scepticism or questioning because “the vibe of the thing” sits well with them and their world view.