Monday, March 25, 2013

Conspiracy Theories

For some, it’s God (or Allah or Buddha or Obi-Wan Kenobi). For others, it is science. For too many, the ultimate source of the truth simply doesn’t exist because they don’t think about. They accept what they are told without stopping to question whether they are hearing fact or fiction. Carl Sagan’s novel “Contact” invites us to question our faith. Ultimately, “Contact” forces us to re-examine our faith. Is science God?

As an atheist, my best answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’. Science is science, and science is my source of the truth. I accept that some parts of my personal truth are yet to be proven by science, but in accepting those few fuzzy truths-in-potentia, I don’t reject science. In fact, I believe that my truths will be proven in time, and proven by science.

These are the questions I’ve been pondering today when I should’ve been learning about problem solving techniques and root cause analysis. It’s possible that I stumbled into the wrong webinar. In between DMAIC, PDCA, fishbones and 5xWhy (hands up if these are familiar terms to you), I kept thinking back to a bizarre twitter exchange I had last week with the Galileo Movement and some of their followers.

The entire exchange was dusty with hostility, because the Galileo Movement is on a mission to discredit climate science: it’s all just a global conspiracy involving literally millions of people who want to transform the entire planet into a communist utopia.

A new twitter buddy pointed me towards an excellent blog post on the which includes a response to the Galileo Movement’s pseudo scientist, Malcolm Roberts, by the SMH’s Environment Editor Ben Cubby. It’s fair to say that they have a little history, although when talking about the Galileo Movement, hysteria is the more accurate term. It’s ironic then, that the climate science deniers refer to the rest of us as “climate alarmists”.

In any case, we seem to have a “debate” which has lasted years longer than it should’ve done, given the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence that indicates that climate change is real. This pie chart (right)puts the evidence for and against climate change in perspective. Many climate science deniers are accusing the United Nations and 99.83% of the global science community of a massive conspiracy to create a world-wide terror to drive the world towards global socialist governance.

Conspiracies are remarkable things. The fact that the word ‘conspiracy’ is usually followed by the word ‘theory’ suggests that most conspiracies are ideas or concepts or pure fiction rather than realities. The word ‘conspiracy’ is often followed by the word ‘nut’ too, which suggests the kind of people who indulge in such theories. In any case, we turn to Wikipedia for the ultimate definition of a conspiracy theory:
“A conspiracy theory purports to explain an important social, political or economic event as being caused or covered up by a covert group of organisation.”
In America, the CIA tends to live at the heart of a lot of conspiracy theories, from who killed JFK to who was responsible for the September 11 attacks. In Australia, we don’t have as many conspiracy theories, although last week’s non-spill may have sparked a few…
But how – and why - does a conspiracy start? Is it a response, a way to explain something which has already happened? Or is it started deliberately, as a way to justify a set of actions which haven’t happened but will as a response to the conspiracy? There’ll be a money trail or an argument about morality, but also a logic trail, and twisting through each theory, half-truths, untruths, distractions, obfuscation and accusation.

And what of the motives? Why would people want to be involved with a world-wide campaign to either spread fear about climate change, or cast doubt on science to prevent action on climate change?

The first motive is, as always, money. Who stands to lose from action of climate change? Obviously the power producers would not be happy, as they would be penalised if they continued to pollute. Car producers and Big Oil are equally scared: any major changes to car emissions regulations means finding new ways to make cars go. The ripple effect means that everyone downstream, who uses electricity and/or cars, is likely to face some upheaval and price hikes.

Alternately, the Government can accept the reality of climate change and introduce ways of encouraging big polluters to clean up their act. Panic! Less than two years ago, Tony Abbott predicated the end of life as we know it, should the dreaded Carbon Tax be introduced.

“Whyalla will be wiped off the map by Julia Gillard’s carbon tax. Whyalla risks becoming a ghost town, an economic wasteland, if this carbon tax goes ahead and that’s true not just of Whyalla, it’s also true of Port Pirie, it’s true of Gladstone, it’s true of communities in the Hunter Valley and the Illawarra in New South Wales, it’s true of Kwinana in Western Australia, it’s true of the La Trobe Valley, Portland, places like that in Victoria. There’s not a state and there’s hardly a region in this country that wouldn’t have major communities devastated by a carbon tax if this goes ahead.”
 It’s all about fear, about making us more afraid of a Carbon Tax than we are about the possibility of a future environmental catastrophe...and you do that by making the Carbon Tax seem both terrifying and unnecessary.

Motive number two is religion and particularly, the Christian religion. The very idea that the planet might be undergoing some kind of change brings to mind the possibility of evolution…and if evolution is possible, the Book of Genesis becomes less of an absolute and more of a theory. Obviously, casting doubt on the Bible is never going to be acceptable. It can be a bit of a quandary for religious types, who struggle to dismiss the science of evolution while still encouraging parishioners to care for God’s earth.

It’s not surprising that the two major motives for a movement against climate change are money and power, and I think it’s fair to call this minority of climate science deniers a conspiracy – at least as fair as it is to call climate science a conspiracy or Agenda 21 a conspiracy...but I'm still not sure about the logistics of a conspiracy involving millions of people.

That's for another day.

Stay tuned for more musings on how we came to stuck in this crazy debate.

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