Persuasion by Deed

I’ve been writing about the 1980’s lately and it’s served as a  reminder of just how many key problems have remained unsolved for most of my adult life. We were calling the tenure system a horrible mess then; it’s a horrible mess now, or an even more horrible mess. We knew Republican policies would lead to massive transfers of wealth; that’s why I voted against Reagan in 1980 and then again in 1984, and then against every Republican candidate since.

Obama is no dream progressive but Romney could expand the power of the oligarchs beyond all hope of reform. We were also talking a lot about global warming in the 1980’s, and energy, particularly in relation to reducing oil dependency and curbing the spread of nuclear power.  We largely failed at the former but, at least until recently, we succeeded at the former: no new Nukes were built for more than 30 years. That’s something, I suppose.

Remarkably, though, after more than four decades of scientific research and reporting, Americans, the National Association of Science Education reported recently, still don’t believe that global warming is either happening or, just as importantly, caused by human activity:

…35% of respondents agreed that most scientists think that global warming is happening — a slight decrease — 3% agreed that most scientists think global warming is not happening, 41% agreed that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening, and 21% said that they don’t know enough to say.

You don’t need to convince everyone that the scientists are wrong. All you need to do is to use the ordinary vicissitudes of scientific debate– a process alien to everyone but scientists– to persuade people that “the jury is still out.” If the scientists don’t agree, after all, then why should we take any drastic measures? It’s a long-standing battle between responsible scientific reporting and mercenary anti-science advertising and the latter seems to be winning.

Interestingly, though, while all of our ruling capitalists are self-interested, not all of them are myopic. Some see commercial opportunities in our ever pressing need to shift away from a wasteful and destructive carbon fuel economy. As usual, I am coming to this well past the trendiness wave, but the “Reinventing Fire” folks (at the Rocky Mountain Institute) might have found a way to get around the apparent need to “win the debate” over global warming.

I am particularly impressed by the retrofitting of the Empire State building, which illustrates the dramatic energy savings that can be achieved using already existing technologies.   It’s a persuasive example of what Mikhail Bakunin once called “propaganda by deed.”   The RMI argues that these sorts of conservation methods, among other things. would allow us to end all use of oil by 2050.   It sounds too good to be true but the facts seem irrefutable.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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