Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

We're all victims of narrative

By Bob Calo

When climate scientists, in their emails to each other, discuss 'tricking' the data, what they are really doing is betraying a generalized fear of complexity, and a lack of faith in the lay audience.  The public, one assumes, hates complexity: witness modern political campaigns, or your basic hollywood blockbuster. And this is America: we like football more than soccer, checkers more than Go, and The History Channel rather than history.  So I have some sympathy for climate scientists trying to square the fluidity of data with the simple narrative which states that the world is warming fast and we've got to do something about it. And here perhaps is the real problem. Science is science: open-ended, subject to change, and invested in the concept of hypothesis, which is, after all, an educated guess. Environmental politics is quite different: it requires a story to motivate people/voters/contributors. The story has a prophetic urgency about it that abides no backtracking. It is, in fact, that urgency that has made the environmental movement so globally potent.  But today, we are still fighting about the narrative. Are we stewards of the earth or its despoilers? Are we the blessing or the curse? Many other ideologies are wrapped up in those contrasting stories Maybe in a decade or two, the urgency will be gone and we can rationally discuss what to do about it.