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Umberto Eco, Belief, Climate Change

Not the usual headline you’d expect to read, but this was the topic of a brilliant article on the BBC recently, about belief in Umberto Eco’s novels and the fact that people will cling onto any sorts of dubious ‘facts’ to fit their own views of denial of climate change:

If you want to believe something badly enough, Eco’s novels suggest, then by selective listening – by editing out the contrary evidence – you will hear what you want to hear. Nowhere is this more true currently than in the debate about global warming…

Instead the climate sceptics have created an intricate web of their own associations and allusions, to produce their version of an alternative story which runs contrary to that of mainstream science.

What Umberto Eco’s stories tell us is how comforting such quests can be. Faced with an uncertain future and declining prosperity, without religion for reassurance, what could be more comforting than to join a select band searching for the Holy Grail?

Read the rest. From my observations on how climate change deniers work, there is a ‘head in the sand’ mentality about what they say, and I suppose, at heart, they’re just seeking a kind of escapist comfort in constructing a fiction around them.

It doesn’t make me loathe their opinions, or despise the way they try to murk-up scientific facts with their fiction, any less however.

And all of this reminds me to read more Umberto Eco at some point. I absolutely loved The Name of the Rose.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

4 replies on “Umberto Eco, Belief, Climate Change”

Much of this stems from a style of knee-jerk, ‘crack-pot’ reaction. The target of the crack-pot’s inchoate scepticism can be variable: climate change, taxation, the equality of women, fluoride in the water supply, the seasonal attack on Christmas, human rights, speed-cameras, higher petrol prices; a litany of Holy Grail-esque quests against vague, windmill shaped targets. 

But more often it is focused on environmental or socially progressive issues; so long as the crack-pot can feel the rush of “standing up” against what they see as popular “PC” opinion. Especially if that opinion can be tied to science or is the product of a governmental (multinational organizations like the EU or the UN being even better) decree. Little wonder that this broad umbrella collects a lot of nuts in the UK under it along with much nastier types – ranging from EDL supporters to out-right Tories

England, unfortunately, is well primed for this sort of crack-pottery as shown by the surge of approbation which followed the PM’s recent vetoing of EU efforts to renew their treaty in a time of crisis. As is my home country the USA, which if it didn’t exactly invent extreme crack-pottery, has been taking it to new ‘heights’ ever since.

Here in the UK, small island mindset is commingled with the efforts of energy lobbyists. I had not expected to find so a high level of scepticism of AGW here in Great Britain, but there is a very well organized and deeply funded effort to keep the public in doubt. You can’t necessarily separate the two. It’s a mistake to play down the millions spent to muddy the waters and throw dirt on the evidence for climate change. There are billions at stake – not to mention the lives of millions, but the latter are mostly poor people so hardly factor in the equations of those who don’t want people talking about climate change, unless it is to sneer at it.

Crack-pottery can seem charmingly eccentric and quintessentially British, a bit like a smiling Toby mug set in a dirty shop-window. But in this case as in others, it can belie a more toxic and hard-set interior. Flaws which are exposed upon closer examination.

Many good points, as always. A lot of these people all tend to stand under the ‘don’t want to pay tax’ umbrella, without having the intelligence to see why taxation is important and how the fabric of society depends upon it. (And they always, always forget that many of their free-market gods, such as Adam Smith, saw modest taxation as a badge of pride.) 

I often wonder how much of this crack-pottery is being funded by business interests. A lot of news in the UK is generated by ‘think-tanks’, which churn out ideas to suit a particular group and bend statistics to their requirements, this brain-washing an entire generation and disabling their ability to think with a social conscience (and not just that, but a sound economic one, too).

What’s sauce for the goose Mark. The pro side have totally ignored and brushed under the carpet the Climate Gate scandal, emails and the contents therein and have a ‘head in the sand’ mentality about it. 

Until Climate Gate I was a non interested believer. I used to get New Scientist a lot and generally accepted the stories about Global Warming, although I didn’t really take much of an interest in the subject.

What changed my mind wasn’t the Climate Gate scandal per se but the reaction to it. The ‘nothing to see here’ and ‘there’s still a consensus’; ‘it doesn’t alter the science,’ etc. No where was there a ‘hang on, let’s look at this’ which should be the first response of scientists, the media and politicians. In fact my respect for scientists of any branch has gone way down because of Climate Gate. Note: respect; their work may be truth or fiction but my drop in respect for them as people – and by inference their professional ability – is now always going to make me doubt what they say. Respect for the media too has gone down. And I never had any respect for politicians (boom boom).

And I’m sorry Mark, but for me, statistics is not science, computer modelling is not science. Even studies I do not consider science. Science is the proposal of a theory and the proving or disproving of that theory by experimentation.

I don’t know if you have but I’ve (randomly) read through the climate gate emails from the first and second batch and they are just plain and simply up to no good. The most recent one that sticks in my mind is an email from Elaine Barrow that said they had to fudge the figures because of problems with SPECTRE (I’m assuming that SPECTRE is a program going by the context of the email and not an enemy of James Bond). This was from CG2 and dated from 1997. Email number 0723. They were looking to fudge the figures over a decade ago and you want me to accept the science is settled?  You want me to accept that this is valid science on which to base political policy or even the spending of public money?

The climate always changes and there’s always a possibility that mankind can affect it but as much to cause catastrophic global warming? We’re not that hard mate. 

I can’t remember their name but I do recall some old BBC documentary about a species of ant that made their nest in a tree, and they totally devastated an area of about twenty feet around that tree. I’m talking nothing left, nothing at all. I have a vivid image of it being a patch of dirt around the tree: of course the ants just moved on to another tree. When we get to that sort of environmental impact then you have some cause for blaming mankind for ills in the world. But compared to those ants we are amateurs. 

Incidentally I tried with The Reef ebook but couldn’t get into it. I’ll have to accept that I’ll just need to get a physical copy as I’m not too comfortable reading long works on the PC – blogs and short articles are fine but apparently nothing long. I’ve also treated myself to City In Ruin and that should arrive soon.

Hi John,

In a bit of a hurry, but Climate Gate was hardly a scandal, and has frequently (three times I believe) been proven to be a storm in a teacup by independent and thorough inquiries.

But that doesn’t seem enough for people, who are – as in the article – looking to cherry pick facts for their beliefs.

I’ve read through some of them and to me – who isn’t part of a massive government enquiry – there’s nothing weird going on at all. All the emails prove is that scientists are people, like you and me.The jobs of scientists is to always be a sceptic – that’s what they do. They don’t accept anything, but take things purely on what the data suggests. There’s no emotion involved. 

What has happened is that people who are being funded by oil companies and so on are spreading doubt. It was exactly the same when tobacco companies tried to spread doubt about links between smoking and cancer. 

What also needs to be clear is that the debate in the scientific community is not the same as the debate out here in the media. Here, where media meets money meets corporations, there seems to be a debate. In science, there is a 97% consensus among published climate scientists that manmade climate change is a reality. That’s stunning in any field of science. 

Even Margaret Thatcher said, decades ago, said: “We are seeing a vast increase in the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere… The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto.” Then asked for a global treaty on climate change.

This is no conpsiracy, and we’ve known about the mechanisms of climate science for over 200 years. For this not to be true (and no one wants it to be true) someone would have to have some pretty substantial evidence, other than the fact that they don’t like the tone of an email. 

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