The shame of it all

Below is in full and without edit a recent letter to the editor of the TLS:

Sir, – Unless a substantial proportion of the world’s scientists are deluded and are (innocently) deluding us, articles that blithely project a long-term future extrapolated from a continuing present need to be challenged (see “The last mortals” by Regina Rini, May 17). Or rather the publishing of them. To make predictions based on the present could be an act of climate catastrophe denial, an act that recursively makes the catastrophe more likely. This article is particularly odd in that it posits the exact opposite problem to the one we (almost certainly) face. It’s not how we cope with watching the next generation sail off into immortality, but how we cope with leaving them to face the conclusion of our civilization. Even the most sophisticated actuarial programs would struggle to tell me my grandchildren’s life expectancy, but I’d bet it’s shrinking by the day. A more useful challenge for philosophers would be to ask why environmental and social collapse are increasingly inevitable now, why we don’t care, and perhaps why we seem not to care that we don’t care. Are we incapable of seeing the world as real? Better to deal with these sorts of questions than to go floating off into Elfland.


I wonder if Mr Steinhardt and like-minded people fully appreciate the obvious policy implication that follows from the intimidating tone and message, namely, so catastrophic is climate change that thinking about anything else is grotesquely irresponsible?

The implication in terms of the language used in this letter? Clearly, such people should be publicly shamed and humiliated, if it turns out that, yes, climate change is going on and yes, it is destructive, but still that does not excuse humanity from thinking about other existential issues.

The aim of the public shaming would be to make them so mortified by their having been wrong that they stop their bullying catastrophism. Only then would they have something much more palpable and personal to worry about and attend to, given anything less would be–for them–an irresponsible and unreasonable distraction from the full-time urgency of the matter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s