Climate Change. Have scientists failed to give sufficient warnings?

Seminararbeit, 2016
14 Seiten, Note: 2,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The Foundation: “Knowledge did not translate into power.”
2.1 Literal decoding
2. 2 Philosophical interpretation

3. Political Aspects
3. 1 IPCC, UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol

4. Climate Change Denial

5. Historical aspects

6. Institutional Reasons
6. 1 Precautionary Principle

7. Critical Laypersons

8. Conclusion

9. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Almost five hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei was accused of being a liar because he supported the theory of the heliocentric view – which states that the sun is the centre of our galaxy rather than the earth. Because of this statement, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest. Almost five hundred years from then, we have this theoretical nameless historian, who lives in the Second People’s Republic China and writes an essay about our current century, blaming us for not seeing the most obvious. Our climate is changing dramatically and it seems as if mankind pretends to be like the famous three monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil.

The huge achievements our civilization come up with in order to explain the world is named science. Scientists have dedicated their lives explaining and understanding our world in a verifiable fashion. Yet if someone tries to understand the nature of a person, who willing spends most of his life in a laboratory in order to conduct research, opinions differ on the question what their motives might be? Now we get into the right mood for the topic of this term paper. The climate change debate, provoked by scientists, draws a very bleak picture from a capitalistic viewpoint.

In terms of motivations for climate scientists, it has been suggested that they have their ‘snouts in the carbon trough’, that they are fabricating the data about climate change so they might receive more grants (Washington 13). Scientist reaching for fame – the scientist who could convincingly demonstrate that human-caused climate change is not real would be almost as famous as Einstein. This gives a very greedy and sociopathic view of scientists dealing with this issue. In fact, most scientists are well-meaning and often altruistic. They are looking to find out what is the “truth” in order to explain and help society and nature. (Washingtion 13) If such a persons sends urgent warnings because of their research findings, it is fascinating how the public reacts. One evocative reaction comes from Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s Book The Collapse of Western Civilization. The narrator is a historian in the future, blaming our society for ignoring the obvious.

This term paper intends to answer one main question the book evokes: Are there any aspects that hinder or the fuels the public to take this topic more seriously? Why is it so difficult for most of us to accept that climate is changing? And furthermore, we take little to no responsibility for it.

2. The Foundation: “Knowledge did not translate into power.”

In the very first paragraph of the essay The collapse of western civilization, the narrator makes analogies from our civilization to former societies, like Roman and Mayan empires. He makes it clear that unlike the other empires, the Western Civilization recorded ,in detail, what was going to happen but was unble to do something about it. “Knowledge did not translate into power.” (Oreskes, Conway 2) The aim of this term paper is to examine why scientists in our society fail to deliver a forceful warning, and even if they do so, why authorities deny these facts or act insufficiently. Hence, the phrase in Oreskes and Conway’s first paragraph is exceedingly profound and deserves further observation. This locution lays the foundation for both Oreskes and Conway’s Collapse of Western Civilization and for this discourse.

2.1 Literal decoding

First of all, there are three keywords: knowledge, translate, and power. Coupled with a dictionary and further philosophical research, these words are going to be scrutinized in the following chapter. The first question that arises is what exactly does the narrator mean when he says “knowledge”? According to an online resource, knowledge is “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2): acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique”. (Merriam-Webster) The narrator explains that the collapse of western civilization was due to climate changes and one could credit this knowledge to the scientific discipline of geographic and climate.

In contrast to the people with knowledge, there are people with power. I would like to define these more clearly because in the western civilization, these people could be politicians or individuals with higher social influence, either by their personal achievements or by financial impact (which mostly goes hand in hand in our latitudes). With the keyword ‘power’ we have the “ability to act or produce an effect (Merriam-Webster) – simply said, it is the capability of turning knowledge into action. The usage of the term translation here is what makes this phrase special. If someone wants to translate something you have to turn [sth.] into one's own language or another.. (Merriam-Webster) Consequently, this implies that language is needed in order to translate. One can assume now, that educated people in our age failed to impart or translate their knowledge. Therefore their knowledge was not sufficiently accessible to most people in our civilization, either because the topic, or the way it was presented, was too complex to understand or they simply failed because of uncertainty or precariousness (95 percent confidence interval). In summary, this last sentence can be translated as follows: The knowledge of science barely finds audiences from authorities who have the capacity for action.

2. 2 Philosophical interpretation

In addition to the literal decoding, the philosophical interpretation should be taken into consideration. Whenever philology meets social theories, or historian ideas, it is inevitable that one denies Michel Foucault. “This history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning.” (qtd. in Olssen 48) Foucault’s thesis tells us that whenever humans interact, what matters is not who is right but who has more power. As Mao cynically noted, all political power ultimately comes from the barrel of a gun, and the correctness of one’s scientific research seems irrelevant when faced with a violent thug. (Newton)

Such harms against scientists can be found in the Collapse of Western Civilization as well: “As the world climate began to spin out of control and the implications for market failure became indisputable, scientists came under attack, blamed for problems they had not caused, but had documented.” (Oreskes, Conway 45)

Oreskes and Conway follow up this idea by putting much blame on the failure of scientists to translate their findings into meaningful political action. For that reason, this issue will be examined in the following chapter in detail.

3. Political Aspects

3. 1 IPCC, UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol

In response to the threat of global warming, the United Nations established an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to study the most up-to-date scientific information on global warming and climate change (Spielvogel 977). Since then, many scientists have collected and revealed data about our climate and how it has changed and make predictions about our future. The response to the IPCC reports was the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was signed by 154 states at the UN Conference on Environment and Development […] in 1992. Their main goal was the stabilization of the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. (Robinson, 28) The commitments […] are strengthened by the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in 1997. (Robinson, 28) It was signed by 180 countries and the European Union (United States is not a Party) Since 1990, the emissions by the USA shot up so much that it is nearly impossible to reach the Kyoto emission goal. […] Since USA is responsible for a large amount of the global greenhouse gas emissions this is a sour setback for the international climatic protection efforts. (Quaschning)

What attracts even more attention here is that the cautions have been out since 1992, namely by the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, which was signed by senior members of the world’s scientific community. Here the humanity got a list of the critical stressors the environment is suffering from. Amongst others, mankind was warned about certain changes, like in the atmosphere, the oceans, living species, etc. All of these warnings and their devastating consequences can be found in the Collapse of Western Civilization.

20 years have now passed since that warning. But the public remains in broad denial. Narrow minded politicians continue to press for endless growth. Control of government has been taken by investment banks and industry leaders creating the largest class of “robber barons” in history. (Nappi) Such intense criticism addresses the societies that are known to inherent power as described in the chapter before.

On the political side, the problem with using resources in an unsustainable manner is that no one really believes in unsustainability until there is nothing left or the system is demonstrably broken. (Drew, Lorimer 54) In addition to this one major aspect, is the denial network. Yet it is beyond the scope of this term paper to research the specific reasons why the climate change denial, or the willful ignorance, is such an issue. But one valid reason should be mentioned here: Financial interests, as one can see in the documentary of “The Age of Stupid”. The conclusion is that countries with high consumer behavior are just as wealthy as its oil stocks and, hence, this is reason enough to go to war.

“The con economic system is disastrous. Not just for the planet, but for most people, too. 400 years of capitalism has allowed the richest one percent to take forty per cent for themselves. Leaving just one percent for the poorest to have. With profit the only measuring step, destroying the planet is written into the system, and run away climate change is not very suprising result” (Spannerfilms 41:32)

It does not require a lot of statistics to prove that the “richest ones” are located in the United States and Europe. This maldistribution evokes self-serving and short-changed manners. Naomi Klein describes the quick rise of this Western consumer lifestyle. She says that within a decade, 1989 – 1999, the Western consumer lifestyle remains intact, it would grow significantly more lavish […]. Simultaneously, that voracious lifestyle would be exported to the middle and upper classes in every corner of the globe – including, despite earlier protestations, India, where it would wreak environmental damage on a scale difficult to fathom. (Klein 75)


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Climate Change. Have scientists failed to give sufficient warnings?
Bayerische Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg  (Englische Philosophie)
Climate Narratives
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
528 KB
This text was written by a non-native English speaker. Please excuse any errors or inconsistencies.
climate change, scientists, mankind, science, future
Arbeit zitieren
Marcel Riguez (Autor), 2016, Climate Change. Have scientists failed to give sufficient warnings?, München, GRIN Verlag,


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