February 16, 2010 by Jason Brown
Utah’s legislature has just passed a non-binding resolution challenging the veracity of anthropogenic climate change. The resolution, passed on February 9th also urges the EPA to drop plans to use its authority to regulate greenhouse gases and calls for no climate change legislation to be passed until another independent study can be conducted. Depending on the day climate critics vacillate between rationalizing climate change as part of earth’s natural cycles and flat out denying that it is occurring at all. Mike Noel, a Republican member of the Utah legislature, is even convinced that attempts to mitigate climate change are a conspiracy to control the world’s population. In anticipation of the resolution, eleven Brigham Young University (BYU) scientists responded with a reasoned and rational point by point response. What is interesting to me is that these professors of science at a religious institution are using the language of scientific rationality in their appeal to Utah legislators. Within Utah’s dominant religious culture, Mormonism, however, scientific knowledge is secondary to the knowledge one can receives from the Holy Ghost which is believed to confirm eternal or sacred truths. So then, why didn’t BYU scientists appeal to this kind of knowledge? That they knew that humans were causing climate change because they felt it in their hearts? That they could not explain it, but that they had prayed about it and the Holy Ghost had testified that it was true, and that we must now act in order to prevent catastrophic consequences.
If neither the language of science nor the language of testimony would prove sufficient to convince legislators that climate change is real and that humans are causing it, then it is clear that there is something else behind their criticism of climate science. The Utah resolution shows that “science” is only useful in as much as it supports the critics’ desired outcomes. I would assert that no amount of scientific data will convince those hostile to the implications of anthropogenic climate change. Instead of hiding behind the authority of science, doubters of climate change should make explicit their real reasons for opposing action to mitigate the effects of climate change: it threatens the current economic order and does not fit a fundamentalist market ideology that opposes any and all regulation and taxation on business as usual.
Those who have suggested that more or better education of Utah legislators will allow them to see the error of their ways, should reconsider the ways in which science is used in the public discourse and politics. What are needed are not more studies, more education, or more patience; what is needed is a fundamental shift in the ways we interact with the earth and define the economic prosperity that has caused climate change to begin with.