Global Warming and Competing Visions of Human Agency
The debate surrounding global warming is primarily a struggle over competing visions of human agency. Are humans responsible for global warming or not? Some say “yes,” others say “no.”
If you keep up with the debate over global warming, combatants have largely staked out positions around the ‘scientific evidence.’ There is much faith placed in ‘scientific evidence’ as the ultimate site of arbitration. The argument seems to be that an ethical decision is not called for because the ‘scientific evidence’ will give us the answer about which way to go.
For instance, Al Gore and many other proponents of the global warming thesis rally around the ‘scientific evidence’ in An Inconvenient Truth. For folks like Gore and Brian McLaren, another important proponent of the global warming thesis, the ‘scientific evidence’ is clear about what is going on—the world is getting warmer because of man and so it is man’s responsibility to do something about it.
On the other side of the debate, however, are opponents of the global warming thesis. They have the ’scientific evidence’ on their side too. For instance, Kelly Boggs, writing for LifeWay, offers an example of this position. She laments that so many corporations and people are falling for the “politically correct hysteria over man-made global warming.” As she puts it, “[d]espite the fact that many scientists offer evidence that counters the theory of man-made global warming, many stubbornly believe it’s true.” In other words, the world may or may not be getting warmer; either way, it is not man’s responsibility.
In both instances, proponents and opponents of the global warming thesis argue that ‘scientific evidence’ is on their side of the debate and that this evidence basically makes the moral choice for them. Stacked up, both Gore and Boggs would say the ‘scientific evidence’ is clear about which way to go. The problem is that they interpret the ’scientific evidence’ very differently and so there policies are pointed in two very different directions.
Ultimately, I argue, the ‘scientific evidence’ that both opponents and proponents appeal to is best seen as a rhetorical commonplace used to prop up their competing positions. As I see it, the real debate is not about ‘scientific evidence.’ Rather, Gore and Boggs symbolize two visions of human agency. On Gore’s view, man is an agent that can cause the problem and find a solution to the problem. On Bogg’s view, man is neither an agent that can cause the problem nor an agent that can fix it.
So, I don’t think that the issue of global warming or the problem of how humans should respond will be resolved by appeals to the ‘scientific evidence.’ The ‘scientific evidence’ is a rhetorical means to a larger end—namely, two competing visions of human agency.