Futuribles Journal n° 380

Ressources naturelles, énergie, environnement - Société, modes de vie

Climate Scepticism: Reflections on a Category Error

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By the time this issue of Futuribles comes out, the now traditional international conference on climate change, planned for 28 November–9 December 2011, will have begun in Durban where the different nations will again attempt to agree to a series of measures aimed at curbing the warming of our planet. It is far from certain they will succeed in doing so, despite a diagnosis – recognizing global warming and its anthropogenic origins – that is shared almost unanimously by the scientific community. We say “almost” since a few scattered individuals – the so-called “climate sceptics” – still dispute the fact that climate change is happening. Futuribles has already (in March 2005) devoted a long “Forum” section to one of the emblematic figures of this tendency, Bjørn Lomborg. We return to the theme today by way of the analysis of Antonin Pottier, who examines the socio-psychological mechanisms underlying the climate-sceptical position.
Pottier distinguishes between two elements in the debate on climate change: a “diagnostic” component, including the observation of the warming of the planet, its causes (the emission of greenhouse gases) and its possible consequences (a scenario tending towards large-scale climatic upheavals), and a “prescriptive” part which, taking account of the diagnosis, proposes political measures and relates not to scientific observations but to a moral evaluation of the situation. After reminding us of what “fuels” the debate (the element of uncertainty which, Pottier argues, can relate only to the vision of the likely future that emerges from the observation of the facts, not to the description of the facts observed), he shows us that climate-sceptical arguments arise out of a confusion between diagnosis and prescription: it is because they reject the need for, or the content of, climate policies that they come to deny the scientific reality of climate change, shifting the ground of the debate and veering deeper into error. This posture is all the more harmful for being widely echoed in the media, tending to add a touch more confusion to the information available to the public: “Citizens’ perceptions of contemporary issues are skewed in favour of those interests that would be seriously impacted by a campaign against greenhouse emissions.”

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