Funny thing happened to me today. Both of my classes revolved around the same topic: Climate Change. Just for the fun of it, let’s compare and contrast.
First, the McGill course. ENVR610. Three professors team up to have student reflect critically upon the challenges facing environmental policy. This class was led by the epidemiologist with a extensive experience in statistical analysis. His focus was on presenting the data. The previous class, we saw a Nova documentary on the whole process and logistic scientist actually deal with when extracting Ice sample of Antarctica. The presentation showed many difficult to interpret graphs. Many temperature, CO2 and methane data collections. He was open to all questions and challenged the students on finding other reasons to explain the climate change other than human activity. He even disproved a few classic explanations such as the sun variations or measurement errors. The second part of the presentation showed projections and scenarios. What if we keep going in a business as usual fashion? With what levels of certainty can models, which accurately reproduce the past measurements, now project future temperatures? My caveat there is that past patterns will never subside in the future. No matter what. I say you can’t predict the future. Buckminster says you’ll have to invent it. That caveat aside. The professors asks what range of change are to expect according to various scenarios? In the end, we agreed that the “science” of modelling projects a 1 to 6 degrees increase of global average temperatures from the 14 degrees of the 1950-1981. Basically, the science had spoken. We, the students, couldn’t come up with another storyline than climate change is proven by factual science and the future is bleak.
An hour later, I’m in another course, in another building. Sustainable business strategies for MBA students at the John Molson School of Business. Here the professor has invited a trained representative of the Al Gore climate reality project. Her approach (and Al Gore’s) is to climate change is wildly different. True, her audience was different too. She began by showing the consequences of climate change. The pictures of hungry children, the docks of dried out lakes, the before and after of floods washed cities. Her presentation was also a personal outcry. She connected the subject to her experience, and the world she fears her children will have to live in. The main storyline here is that climate change is a reality. It is already happening, more often and stronger than ever. And the consequences are life threatening. The video of a woman being pulled out of what’s left of her house as the flood waters rise is humbling. Then there were some graph about the science. The same hockey stick shaped increases in CO2, methane, and temperature. She quotes the same recognized scientists. Of the rare that speak out she says. The one pragmatist slide came in the form of a computer generated image that shows where CO2 production is present in human activities. The second part of her talk was aimed at debunking a few myths or red herrings on the subject. Again, the sun vs temperature graph was plotted. The quality of the science was also questioned and validated through independent studies reporting the same data. The conclusion came in the form of a quote from a whistleblower that basically states that climate change can no longer be seen as a theory but a fact.
I haven’t yet thought of the ethical perspectives present in these rhetorics, but one sure is missing from these presentations. Where are the pragmatists. There is just so much we can take in the form of doom and gloom. There needs to be a light at the end of the tunnel that says: “there is a way out.” The main content missing is thus a simple answer to what is causing this climate change. How much is each element causing? What are the existing ideas on how to reduce or eliminate these activities? How long will it take? What can’t be done? Who’s going to do it? Get to it!