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I have a painful aversion to people lending me books. Books aren’t like DVDs or Mp3s, losing you sixty minutes of life here and there. Books take days, that’s far too big of a commitment to force upon someone. People need to realise that.
Still, last month I was offered a Nigel Lawson book by an old friend and was surprisingly happy to accept. There were three reasons for this: one I may have mistaken the author for Nigella Lawson, two it was under 150 pages, and three, its focus was on the climate change debate, a topic that both gets my blood simmering and generates a dull ache in my testes.
The book in question was Nigel Lawson’s “An Appeal To Reason – A cool look at global warming” which offers a “rational” and “alternative” approach to the climate change debate (that it’s a load of old bollocks). Being a wind farm hugging, tin can recycling, Guardian reading Nancy, I felt obliged to have a read and try to challenge my preconceived opinions. To get both sides of the story, as it were.
“We need more cynicism in the world; more cynicism for expert opinions, magic formulas and most importantly controversial best sellers”.
Why would I want to do this? Well firstly because I love annoying myself; and secondly because my brother is a Meteorologist and has spent the last ten years of his life studying this very debate. As such, my massive throbbing ego clearly thought that this piss-poor tie to the topic merited me worthy enough to comment. It appeared to think something along the lines of “If I read one book on the subject, I’ll be able to sort this whole climate change thing out”.
Before jumping into it, I decided it would only be fair to do a bit of background research. And by “research” I mean reading up on every negative book review I could find to help ensure that my preconceived biases were firmly backed up before actually daring to hear any new information. Yes I know that’s wrong, but what’s any debate without a good bit of bias? Take for instance the book’s author, Nigel Lawson. Mr Lawson is the former chair of CET, a “strategic communications” firm representing the likes of BP, General Electric and Texaco. But don’t worry, I’m sure that had absolutely nothing, NOTHING to do with him writing a book against climate change.
You see this is the trouble. Having read the book (reviews and all) I’ve begun to realise that I’m no expert, and nor for that matter is Mr Lawson (A long standing political figure with no scientific or metrological background). And even if we were, expert opinions can be bought and sold like cheap cars or late night hookers.
Really all this book has taught me is that it’s pointless trying to comment on anything. There’s just too much data in the world to make a sensible judgement (note data, not information). I mean, just spending a few days researching this topic was enough to blow my fragile ape-like mind. Every article I’ve read on the subject just links to another 25 more detailed articles, all leading to one massive inconceivable spider’s web, woven by thousands of spiders much much smarter than I am. Even if I were to read every one of those articles I’d still have to take into account their sources. Which of these articles were motivated by truth and which were motivated by money? Who funded these pieces of research? What about all the data that’s honest, but just plain wrong? All the idiots like me writing blog posts on subjects they barely understand. The PR people spinning their own little lies? It’s all data, just no information.
Even my brother, fresh from the MET Office, with his research papers and his PHD in Meteorology would happily admit that he only knows about 5% of what there is to know on the subject. And then people like Nigel Lawson have the stones to write about “facts” and their “100% certainty” on the topic. There’s just too much to know, and not just in terms of climate change.
Last week I watched a BBC4 documentary about a man who spent his life studying World War II air-crash investigation sites. Not World War II, not even World War II aircraft, World War II air-crash investigation sites. That’s his whole life. That’s how much there is to know in this world; enough information that people can devote their lives to topics as specific as that. What’s even more depressing is that he’s not even the world authority on it!
How can we have a serious conversation about climate change when we don’t have all the information? How can we have a serious conversation about anything?
To me this is the fundamental flaw with the democratic process; it assumes that we (the people) have enough collective knowledge to make informed and logical decisions. I don’t even know how to rewire a plug!
Now, I’m not saying that democracy doesn’t work, nor that we should just give up with trying to understand the world. True knowledge is out there, we just need to be wary of people who claim to achieve it with ease. If working in PR has taught me anything, it’s that we need more cynicism in the world; more cynicism for “expert opinions”, “magic formulas” and most importantly “controversial best sellers”.
Realistically, unless you’ve spent more than ten years of your life studying something, I don’t think you should have an opinion on it.
…That’s my opinion anyway