The Herald Bulletin

April 11, 2013

Viewpoint: Labeling scientists ‘alarmist’ is irresponsible

By Stephen W. Guy
Daleville resident

— Susan Stamper Brown’s recent column (“The Bible’s ‘To everything there is a season’ is valid and remains constant”) would be laughable if it weren’t so lamentable. She presents herself as the voice of reason, the essence of common sense, but, in fact, her column is little more than an illogical rant. It suffers from several of the logical flaws that we have known about at least since Aristotle.

First, she uses that favorite ploy of non-thinkers: The argument ad hominem. Instead of providing convincing evidence that there’s nothing to worry about, she paints all those concerned about global warming and climate change as crazed alarmists who “crow ‘the sky is falling’ every time a cow passes gas or air temperatures fluctuate.” This attack on the person rather than the evidence is the most scurrilous of logical flaws and, of course, proves nothing except that Brown doesn’t want to face the facts. Perhaps there are people like those she describes, but they are not at all representative of the many sober scientists who are asking questions and finding answers that make them concerned about the future of the planet. To label all these intelligent and concerned scientists as “alarmists” is vicious and deeply irresponsible.

A closely related logical flaw is Brown’s use of the “straw man,” setting up an unreal target that is easily shot down. If, after all, these alarmists get worked up over the methane produced by cows, then there’s no point in paying them any attention.

Brown also stacks the deck by quoting Rajendra Pachauri as if he were criticizing environmentalists when he says that “science only thrives on the basis of questioning,” but the context of his remark is not made clear. Obviously, science thrives by asking questions. But when Brown asks why “climate change alarmists” don’t ask more questions, she offers no proof that they don’t. The business of these concerned scientists is asking questions about climate change they see occurring — the glaciers melting and receding, the melting of the polar ice cap and the shifting of animal habitats gradually northward. These worrisome changes are well established, but Brown is either unaware of them or, worse, is aware of them but simply ignores them.

For the most part, however, Brown simply distorts what those concerned about climate change are really saying. They are not saying that planet has “the ability to execute vengeance on global sinners.” They certainly do not “promote” an apocalyptic ending to the planet. They do not “practice their own religion, coming across like Greek gods who can control the earth’s climate and create weather.” Quite the contrary. They are warning about our foolish belief that we can go on in our wasteful and profligate way without any consequences. They know that we cannot control the weather but that we can have been changing the climate in our foolishness.

And Brown exaggerates, also grotesquely, at times. Wind turbines can, of course, occasionally cause the deaths of eagles and other protected birds, but this is hardly the matter, as Brown puts it, of “fossil fuel wackos” being “willing to sacrifice bald eagles in the name of clean energy.” And she asserts, that because the wind doesn’t blow all the time, fossil fuels are used to fill in during those down times. So what? That’s still a reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels. What alternative does Brown offer except continuing to do what we’ve been doing for too long already? Then she finishes with some more personal attacks on those who disagree with her, referring to her desire to “harness the hot air rising from the mouths of those who think they have the ability to change the climate.”

Like so many on the right wing, Brown doesn’t want to admit that we humans might be destroying our planet — its soil and air and water. Worries about climate change are simply the silly fretting of “climate change alarmists.” But Brown’s most intellectually barren argument is her lame suggestion that at the end of times all will be forgiven and “One day the earth will be renewed.” This is the same balderdash spouted years ago by James Watt, when he worked for President Reagan: No worries. Jesus will come and fix everything we’ve damaged or destroyed, correct all the mistakes we’ve made and forgive us all our sins against the earth on which we live.

That’s not really much of an environmental policy, and it’s an insult to any reputable scientist to suggest that he/she should simply sit back and let God take care of things. Didn’t Brown’s mother ever tell her that God helps those who help themselves?