Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chicken Littles

Apropos the global climate change contretemps Pajamas Media discusses a few of the dozens of environmental "scares" to which we've been subjected over the years. They focus on the mercury poison scare of the mid-nineties, but the commenters mention others (the population bomb, Alar, saccharine, electromagnetic radiation/cancer, DDT/cancer, global cooling, nuclear winter, et al). In fact according to a study cited by PM there have been twenty six such alarums within the memories of those of us who came of age in the sixties.

Here's an excerpt: As these costs [of the various alleged threats] rise, people will increasingly demand hard evidence that their sacrifices are worthwhile and are not merely based on sentimentalism and opportunism.

When people learn more about an issue, the persuasion formula that initially worked so well for alarmists breaks down. People become less persuaded by appeals to trust the authorities, less susceptible to fear, less willing to accept emotional appeals from celebrities, less gullible. Trends in polls show that this is already happening with the global warming scare.

Alarming forecasts of humans harming themselves and the environment by their actions are a common social phenomenon. They become widely believed for a time, cause unnecessary anxiety, and result in costly government policies, then fade from public attention as it becomes more difficult to maintain the alarm in the face of counter-evidence and closer public scrutiny.

As if to provide me an illustration of how this works some folks on a listserve to which I belong sent a link to a short video designed to frighten the bejabbers out of anyone who cares about bird life in North America. The video was accompanied by breathless appeals to not let this happen, and was put out by a left-wing environmental group called the National Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC purports to warn us of the enormous damage that mining energy from Canadian tar sands will do to our bird species and natural beauty. I'm not saying that mining tar sands will not have an impact on the ecology of the Canadian wilderness, but nothing in this video provides evidence of that. It's simply a series of images that the viewer is supposed to subliminally connect with tar sands mining, but no evidence whatsoever of any connection between the image and the mining is given. It's pure emotionalism and quite possibly dishonest:
Assertions are not necessarily facts. What a critical thinker trying to decide on these matters should ask for is not mere assertions, but assertions backed by unimpeachable evidence. Otherwise, even if the alarmist case is true, the audience they seek to reach will just become cynical.

Meanwhile, Uncommon Descent chips in with a parable for our times fetched from the treasure trove of wonderful social commentary limned by the great Walt Disney. Any similarity between the characters in this cartoon and any person living or dead is purely coincidental: