TVs “Big Questions” - How to convince Sceptics it’s time to act on Climate Change – debate polarised
Last Sunday, I watched “The Big Questions” on TV. The title of the question gave me cause for optimism that the debate had moved on from a similar one a couple of years ago, in which there was too much airtime allowed for climate change denial, and not enough for healthy scepticism about the pace and size of the changes and the scale of the response necessary and genuine debate about ‘how much, how soon’ to rein in carbon emissions and start to capture carbon more effectively, and what sort of cumulative carbon budget would be appropriate for humanity.
However, I was disappointed when Nicky Campbell was not firm enough in stepping in to control an obvious climate change denier who, several times, took the airtime without invitation, spoke over other people, very loudly expounding complete denial that global warming is happening (saying things like “the Earth is cooling!” and “the source of the global warming campaign is religious”). To be fair to Nicky, he did then refer back to two of the environmentalists in the room (from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth) asking them “how do you persuade someone like this that climate change needs action now?" And I was pleased to hear them respond with a challenge in return along the lines “it is ridiculous to give airtime to the extreme views of climate change deniers because the things they argue about are beyond debate – they are established fact – entering into an argument with them is not a debate – it is not going to change their minds – it polarises discussions and distracts from what we need to be talking about”.
Overall, the sense I got from what happened in the programme was that it was not a debate about how to persuade genuine sceptics but rather an object lesson in how frustrating it is when climate change deniers get a platform and exchanges become polarised. This is what Nicky Campbell failed to head off.
It's important to distinguish between genuine scepticism and denial. Would the same programme have allowed someone to be so vociferous in denial on other matters of established fact, for example to say "smoking tobacco causes no harm - in fact it's good for you", or "seat belts do not make you safer in a car accident".
Scepticism is healthy - it helps us to challenge everyone on the actions we take - which actions, how far, how fast. But denial just creates unproductive and frustrating polarisation.
Through the ages, people have moved between countries. Either they are running away from something, or attracted towards something else. Whatever the driver, they seek a better life for themselves, and often for their children. Go back a few tens of thousands of years and the islands of the UK had no human inhabitants at all. Reflecting on those timescales, , all of us currently living permanently in the UK are migrants or are descended from migrants.
So it saddens me when I hear some people talk in ways that indicate that their underlying philosophy is what could be described as “fortress UK” – draw up the drawbridge and keep them out. A modified version of this is “keep them out, unless they have skills we need and can’t get locally”. This is still essentially the same thing, or perhaps even worse. It’s saying those people are prepared to accept people in as wage slaves but not if they need help and might be a net cost to our welfare state. What an appalling underlying set of assumptions lurk beneath these opinions. The assumption that we’re not interested in letting people into our country unless they can show a net positive financial contribution. To reduce them to mere economic statistics towards a flawed measure of success – GDP.
If we are all migrants, or descended from migrants, what legacy do we think our migrant ancestors would be proudest of – a stance that creates a fortress and protects a population’s comfort and greed or a stance that respects and supports human spirit and endeavour which resides in people who uproot themselves and seek a better life.
Maybe people who build fortresses find it difficult to comprehend and empathise until their walls (or their bodies and minds) crumble and decay through ossification and they have to venture outside them for support, warmth, or even just for essential services they can’t provide for themselves (eg health services).
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