The issue of global warming is one of the most contested ecological debates of our time. What makes the debate complex is that it is not structured according to a simple for and against structure. For example, one side of the debate will state that global warming is a potentially catastrophic ecological phenomenon produced by the human being’s irresponsible use of natural resources, such that in order to stop this process, we must fundamentally re-evaluate our policies towards the environment, on economic, social and political levels. The other side of the debate, however, tends to take two dominant positions, as noted by Timothy Morton.
On the one hand, there are those who suggest that global warming is a real phenomenon, but that it is a naturally occurring phenomenon, one that is not impacted by the human being. (Morton, 129) This absolves the human being of any responsibility from changing his form of life to halt the process. On the other hand, there are those who reject the phenomenon of global warming outright, considering it to be a false interpretation of the ecological data. (Morton, 129) This is the challenge of persuading those who deny global warning to believe in the real nature of this threat: namely, one has to defeat both of these arguments, even though they are based on entirely different premises.
The latter case denies the existence of global warming. Accordingly, it is largely based on a specific interpretation of scientific data on climate change which denies that this climate change is in fact happening. For example, projected climate change by groups such as the International Council of Scientific Unions conclude that we may see a position of global warming of half a degree Celsius, which is viewed as unproblematic. (Schneider, ) Other projections, however suggest a “catastrophic 5 degrees Celsius before the end of the next century.” What is important about these two different statistics in the context of this debate is that, even though the global warming debate is essentially grounded in scientific data, there is no consensus on this data. In other words, the persuasive argument cannot lie in this data since it is too diverse.
The first case does not deny global warming, but says that humans are not a significant cause of global warming. This marks a possible weakness in those opposed to ecological policy reform. Namely, those concerned about global warming and suggesting change are unified in their position: they acknowledge that there is global warming and something must be done about it. Those opposed to policy change do not have a homogeneous position: they either acknowledge global warming but deny a human role or deny global warming altogether. These two different arguments weaken their position, because they themselves do not have a consensus on the data.
When looking at the issue, therefore, from the way in which the arguments are structured, the position that suggests global warming is not a crisis that forces us to re-evaluate our environmental, social, political and economic policies, is weakened in so far as this position itself entails two radically different ways of looking at the data. At the same time, this makes the attempt to defend policy revision on the basis of global warming difficult to defend, because its opponents are making radically different claims. However, on the other hand, to the extent that we understand the inconsistency of those opposed to the global warming position, their failure to provide a consistent interpretation of the scientific data undermines their own credibility to adequately argue against the need for environmental policy reform.
- Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
- Schneider, Stephen H. Global Warming: Are We Entering the Greenhouse Century?
Suffolk, UK: Saint Edmundsbury, 1990.