I, like many who frequent this website, am a skeptic. Not a pyrrhonic skeptic who seriously and ostentatiously doubts his hand in front of his face; but the healthy skeptic who understands the fallibility of human reason and belief. A healthy skeptic holds nothing as “sacred” or “beyond question” but arrives at justified belief by seriously questioning their most cherished positions. In matters of importance, healthy skeptics do not simply take someone’s “word for it” or enlist blind trust in information received from various channels that are tied up in human fallibility. Towards environmental issues I am a healthy skeptic. I do not blindly accept statistics that are shouted at me. I naturally hold the claims of environmental militants in dubious status.
The issue of global warming is a perfect example. The belief in global warming carries with it an almost unassailable status. Simply to call it into question is to openly tread upon gospel truths. As is seen by this petition many (17,000) well-qualified people are going against the gospel.
It seems clear to me that a healthy skepticism towards global warming is a good idea. Actually, it seems nearly rationally imperative. For us non-scientists we are in a position that necessitates the philosophically distasteful action of deferring to authority. In this case, as the petition shows, the “authorities” are divided. For any layperson to fervantly hold an opinion that global warming is undoubtedly occurring is for that person to irrationally ignore a very large contingent of the authorities to which they are deferring. This is likewise true of anyone who fervantly believes that global warming is undoubtedly not occurring (although I suspect it is not).
Some may wish to demonize the global warming naysayers and call them evil: perhaps believing that the 17,000 individuals represent Lex Luthor-like scientists who wish to deceive the world into not believing in global warming for their own personal gain. This is, of course, absurd. Or, they may choose to believe that poor scholarship is the answer. This is possibly true but the large numbers of believers on both sides suggests that the data is open to interpretation rather than poorly gathered and defectively combined.
Personally, I am taking the position of healthy skepticism. However, I certainly believe that to engage in sweeping reforms and large-scale adjustments (such as the Kyoto Protocol) in the face of such divided scholarship and insufficient data is uncalled for.
I must choose my battles. I am not a scientist and do not hope to be one. I cannot know enough about every relevant issue in order to make a qualified response. I must sometimes defer to authority. I do know that many who are qualified do not believe in global warming. I can also watch this lecture to attempt to inform myself better. In the end, a healthy skeptical view seems warranted.