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The problem with the Stern Report

With the recent release of the Stern Report, I've had a reoccurance of the vague, yet difficult to articulate, feeling that I often get when such debates come to the fore of public awareness. Whether these debates are arguing from one position or another (or both) they have often managed to put a frown to my face by eliciting a fleeting impression of 'wrongness', and it's only while I've been in the process of working through other projects that I've figured-out why.

Whether the individuals who have taken a stake in most of these debates have been 'pro' or 'con', 'believer' or 'skeptic', they nevertheless seem to have an underlying similarity to one-another and a related intellectual flaw that ultimately has affected my ability to judge them with credulity. The common characteristic, and it's no grand insight, is that the lead debaters in these matters are all academics, and modernist academics at that. While there's nothing terribly fit-inducing about that fact per se, it does appear to lead into the critical flaw that I percieve in the flow of discussion; and that is that every one of the debaters is arguing from a position formulated from the interpretation of facts and figures.

If I may digress in order to explain why this would be problem, I would like to draw the reader's memory back to Socrates' allegory of the cave - which is still quite likely the most well-known philosophical myth in the world, despite its great antiquity. When Plato composed "The Republic", he spent considerable time attempting to illuminate his teacher's philopsophical disposition towards the truth, and hence provided us with the story of the cave - a story whose exact origins may indeed lay with Socrates, or might even represent a reformulation of earlier myths constructed by such individuals as Pythagoras. In any case, the purpose of the allegory was to illuminate the understanding of his audience regarding the fundamental nature of true knowledge - that the prisoner who escapes from the cave and whom chooses to brave the light of the Outside is raised-up in the presence of the Truth through an experiential encounter with it. When he returns to the cave, dazed by what he has seen and with his eyes unable to withstand any more of the brilliance, he finds that he is unable to convince his fellow prisoners that what he has seen is true and not some sort of rediculous story.

This 'Prisoner's Dilemma' (or Philosopher's Dilemma, if one wants a less cheeky appellation) may lead us to awareness of the fundamental problem with the communication of verité - that the truth itself, as far as we mortal humans are concerned, can only be most closely known through experiential transformation. It is only by experiencing the truth that we hold any hope of gaining knowledge of any substantial part of it; merely hearing about the truth, or attempting to convey an understanding of it through speech, is at best an approximation of an approximation of true knowledge.

What then are we to make of information that draws only upon this approximation of an approximation of knowledge in its attempt to find its way to truth, and then approximates itself further by attempting to convey itself in speech? Well, clearly we are presented with a final product that is at four removes from the truth - it is the approximation of an approximation which approximates an approximate. It is, allegorically, a shadow on the wall of the cave. And yet, it is these shadows that have come to dominate the environmental debate, for what are they but the attempts by scholars and academics to convey truth without ever having stood in its presence, or - indeed - without ever having left their offices?

Whether one has a position regarding climate change of one type or another, it would appear to me that it is in our best interests to listen to the stories of those with a great deal of practical knowledge of the issues at stake, rather than the academics with whom the media and governments are so greatly enamoured; at least then we come within two removes of the truth, and are not left gaping in wonder at a cave wall.

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