In supreme case of Irony with capital “I”, and as a fitting tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s courage as a free thinker, the following articles have appeared almost at the same time:
- John P. Holdren’s “Convincing the skeptics“, Op-Ed on the International Herald Tribune (Aug 5, 2008 on paper)
- The Economist’s leading article “Speaking truth to power” about Solzhenitsyn’s legacy (Aug 9, 2008 )
First, selected quotes from Holdren’s raging philippic on the dangers of “unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate” (Holdren is “professor at the Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard and the director of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts”):
The few climate-change “skeptics” with any sort of scientific credentials […] muddying of the waters of public discourse […] parroting of these arguments by […] amateur skeptics […] climate-change skeptics […] infest talk shows, Internet blogs, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and cocktail-party conversations […] the denier fringe […]
The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous. It has delayed – and continues to delay – the development of the political consensus that will be needed if society is to embrace remedies commensurate with the challenge. The science of climate change is telling us that we need to get going. Those who still think this is all a mistake or a hoax need to think again.
Presumably, Holdren means climate change skeptics need a good bit of re-education until they change their minds. After all, the danger they cause is because for Holdren, the only way to tackle “the challenge” is by developing an all-encompassing, literally unanimous “political consensus”.
People should just defer to the experts, and just shut up if any one of those “dangerous ideas” pop up in their heads.
Compare the above with what The Economist has to say about Democracy, and the one aspect about which Solzhenitsyn “was wrong”:
Democracies produce a cacophony, in which each voice complains that its own urgent message is being drowned in a sea of pap. […] The cacophony is the lesser evil. Ideas should not be suppressed, but nor should they be worshipped. […] There is no sure defence against bad ideas, but one place to start is with a well-educated and sceptical citizenry that is free to listen to the notions of the intellectuals but is not in thrall to them—and, yes, may prefer the sports channel instead. The patrician in Solzhenitsyn hated this lack of deference in the West. That is one respect in which the great man was wrong
Holdren’s “unanimous political consensus” is not a solution for climate change. It is an evil, a much larger evil than Democracy, and skepticism, will ever be: because it would mean having no defence against what could potentially be very bad ideas indeed (such as giving climate control precedence over development or fighting disease).