This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Cost of the Truth.

            Interviewed by Rachel Maddow the other day, Sen. James Inhofe said the following about global warming: “I thought it must be true until I found out how much it cost.”  That is a direct quote.    
            Let’s analyze this remarkable statement.  At first, he thought the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and that humans have contributed to it, was true.  He trusted the science, witnesses, evidence, and testimony which is in massive and substantial agreement around the world on this question.  But he changed his mind when it was pointed out to him how much it will cost to address the global warming problem.  So he changes his view of what is true based on cost.  Therefore, for Mr. Inhofe, truth is founded, not on facts or evidence, but on cost.  If something costs too much, then it can’t be true.  And then, based on the cost, he chooses to find “scientists” more willing to tell him a “truth” he can afford.
            Let’s think of some other possible examples of this kind of reasoning.
·      --On December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt tells congress: “I thought it must be true when I was told that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  I have decided to find some reporters who can reassure me there was no attack.  Any talk of an attack must be a hoax.”
·      --“At first I thought it must be true when my doctor said I have cancer.  But when I found out how much it was going to cost, I decided it must not be true.  Now I will find a doctor who will give me a diagnosis I can afford.”·   
·      --Upon receiving the news that the planet is actually round, Christopher Columbus believes it and starts to plan a trip to India by sailing west.  However, when he discovers how much such an expedition will cost, he decides that, no, the earth must really be flat after all.
·      --“I thought it must be true when people told us our daughter had musical talent.  However, when I found out how much it was going to cost to get her good lessons and a decent violin, I decided she really doesn’t have any talent after all.”
·      --“I thought it must be true when the soil and water samples showed a high level of environmental toxins on my property.  However, when it was pointed out to me how much it was going to cost to clean it up, I decided they must be wrong.  Here, can I get you some tap water from my well?”  
            Not liking what science was telling him, Inhofe starts looking for evidence to back up what he has now decided, purely on the basis of cost, to be the truth.  The working definition of truth here, then, is that truth is whatever I decide I can afford.  Truth is whatever doesn’t cost me anything.  Truth is whatever it has to be to keep me prosperous.
            And these people call liberals relativists!
            Global warming is about as true a fact as science can come up with.  It’s not just a hypothesis, as it may have been 40 years ago when I first heard about it.  Now there is a boatload of empirical evidence to back it up, from receding glaciers, to acidifying oceans, to the bleaching of coral reefs, to measured increases in CO2 in the atmosphere, to more volatile, severe, and shifting weather patterns, to a gradual rise in sea levels, to changes in the dates when plants bloom and their ranges, and so on.  You don’t have to be an environmental scientist anymore; anyone who is paying attention knows that global warming is happening. 
            Plus you have to be unreasonably credulous and mired in denial to imagine that this increase in temperature is disconnected from the simultaneous increase in the atmospheric levels of CO2 and other known greenhouse gases that has happened since the industrial revolution, and the depletion of rain forests which absorb CO2.  That’s just a coincidence?  The fact that the level of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing has nothing to do with the fact that industry has been pumping prodigious amounts of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere for 150 years?  The fact that the rate of warming almost exactly mirrors the rate of the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not relevant?  All this is somehow disproved by the emergence of a few snarky e-mails at the University of East Anglia?  (Where?)  People whose entire methodology is about openness and objectivity are supposed to have conspired to perpetrate this “hoax,” which would have required an astounding level of secrecy and malice throughout the entire scientific community, all so they could gain… nothing?      
            I am sure that there are dissenters among scientists about almost anything, and that the number of such dissenters increases when they are well-rewarded by moneyed interests.  It takes more gumption and courage than most people have to say no when a large multi-national corporation offers you a healthy sum to spin the interpretation of data in a way that benefits them.  It takes no depth of character to tell a culture what it wants to hear to allow it to continue in its comfortable ways. 
            Remember there have been scientists who have testified that both tobacco and radiation were actually good for you.  Plus there are always scientists whose parochial corner of the world gives them partial data, which may point in a direction different from a wider selection.  And there are scientists who find it appropriate to comment on areas of research they know nothing about.  And many scientists live in an academic environment that rewards novelty, and a media environment that rewards controversy; and both of these environments also have a great deal to lose if global warming is true, because of what it will cost their corporate masters.  What is amazing to me is that the consensus on this remains so solidly broad when there are such powerful forces militating against it.     
            But for Inhofe, the determiner of truth is cost.  That is truly breathtaking.
            For science the determiner of truth is empirical evidence.
            For Christians, however, the determiner of truth is the Word and Spirit of God.  I know global warming is happening, not so much because science and observation say so, but because God’s Word and Spirit say so.  Throughout the Scriptures we find a pattern: idolatry leads to injustice which leads to disaster.  The manifold idolatries of our economic regime, which is to say: the worship of profit, markets, and economic growth, and the turning of sins like greed, lust, and gluttony into “virtues,” have led to wall-to-wall degradation of the planet and people.  We see this injustice (as God defines justice) in the yawning inequalities between the wealthy and everyone else, the addiction to militarism, weaponry, and war, and a politics that is completely controlled by lobbyists for big money. 
            Whenever this happens, some kind of reckoning is inevitable.  The out-of-balance world will be put back in balance.  Invariably this comes in the form of political, economic, and/or natural disaster.  Pharaoh’s injustices attracted 10 plagues.  Israel’s injustices were always attracting conquest by stronger powers, not to mention droughts and plagues of locusts.  Babylon’s injustices were answered by its fall to the Persians.  Rome’s injustices eventually attracted the barbarian invaders.  (The Book of Revelation describes in nightmarish terms the ways all such empires implode and collapse.)
            Having raped and pillaged with impunity for centuries, having developed in capitalism the most comprehensive and thorough engine of death and destruction in history, one that has laid waste to large parts of the planet, and enslaved and/or murdered countless people, it is absurd to imagine that there would be no cost.  The systematic, institutionalized avarice and waste of industrial capitalism is the infection.  Global warming is the fever the planet is using to kill it.
            Inhofe is right.  The cost of addressing global warming in any significant way is enormous.  Our whole economic system will have to go.  Biblical prophecies of the rich being made poor will come true.  When the monster goes down, the parasites attached to the monster, like Mr. Inhofe, will go down too.  If for him this tremendous cost was what made him reject the truth of global warming, for those who follow the Word and Spirit of God it is the cost that proves that a reckoning like global warming is true. 
            If it’s not already too late, the fact is that if we don’t change our unjust systems, God will change them for us.  It won’t be pretty.  But in the end a new world, a new system, a new order, one based on God’s love, peace, justice, and equality, will be born.  That’s what we wait for and anticipate.  In the meantime we should gather in communities where there is no room for exploitation and profit, where life is respected and cherished, where violence is rejected, and there all who trust in the Lord have all things in common, distributing to all who have need.  (Acts 2:45)   

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