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the sources of their authority, as well as the willingness of those in that
class to intrude into long established ways, to scoff at folk wisdom and
received cultural values, and to demand compliance with the latest form
of social improvement, have always been more than a litle ofensive, even
if expert knowledge has often brought real benefits to common people.
Popular ambivalence over expertise is deep, for it is intrinsic to the vexed
relation between people of different social classes and different ways of
seeing the world. Yet this ambivalence is not a feature only of certain
social classes; it is present in nearly anyone who secretly defies doctor's
orders, follows an unhealthy diet, or finds a purely scientific definition of
the world and the human mind limiting.
For all these reasons, the atempt to persuade “skeptics” through the
endless rehearsal of scientific findings does not get at their real concerns.
The conversation must take up questions about our bedrock values. In
the end, a person fully commited to the “skeptical” position may simply
resist the authority of science as such or acknowledge it only insofar as
it complies with more important loyalties. But those who dismiss such
“skepticism” too readily may also miss something essential, for none of
us is truly free of the impulse to resort to similarly intransigent, and often
unacknowledged, loyalties. We all have abundant reasons to evade the
implications of climate change; we all on some level feel a deep surprise
and resistance. In reflecting on the intransigence of the “skeptics,” then,
we would do well to consider our own convenient evasions, our own hes-
itation to take the transformation in the world seriously.
The outright denial that climate change is taking place is only the
most overt form of evading its claims. There is an entire series of increas-
ingly subtle denials of what researchers have found, each of which is
instructive. Perhaps the next version of resistance arises in someone who
doesn't wish to be so harsh in repudiating the science but doesn't want
to accept it, either. Even if the “skeptics” are wrong to be so stubborn, a
person might think, they are right to point out how much we still don't
know about the Earth's climate. Accordingly, in this view there is simply
too much uncertainty in the science for us to act now.
Hesitation of this kind is ordinarily a good thing. In fact, the position
of so-called “skeptics” betrays the promise of a genuine skepticism. A truly
cautious dissent from the claim that human beings are causing climate
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