Scientists' warning: Question your core values

Thousands of scientists have signed a statement warning everyone about the climate change emergency [ 6325731 ]. A number have written papers detailing the problems, one paper included in this edition of the National Reformationist. In particular, the author writes of a not-very-often topic, the core values, or ethos, underpinning our thinking about climate change.

President-emeritus, Southwest/Rocky Mountains (SWARM) Division, AAAS

[Many references appear as hyperlinks in the text.]

Homo sapiens sapiens (the complete name for the human subspecies) has optimistically 200 years left on Earth. Climate change, incorporating global warming, is but one proverbial red flag waved to us by Mother Nature that our core values, our ethos, are suicidal. It is to those recognizing the actuality of global warming, the population explosion, environmental destruction, and mounting social and technological complexity the following is mainly directed. Persons ignorant of or refusing to see the reality of global warming need a more basic confrontation with logic, critical thinking, and facts. Think of how a believer in "flat Earth" could be convinced that we live on the surface of an oblate ellipsoid, and you will begin to understand the magnitude of the task before you.

As I wrote the above paragraph (10 August 2021), the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued "...the first part of the Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, the Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report. It was finalized on 6 August 2021 during the 14th Session of Working Group I and 54th Session of the IPCC" [IPCC, 2021]. This might be considered the capstone on decades of warnings and reports saying continued reliance on fossil fuels, increased demand for energy, failing to conserve, refusal to cooperate in attaining a realistic solution – among others – is not sustainable.

Right out of the box, I am unapologetic about the following being a polemic; it is, as the title says, a warning, but, more critically, one of a human core meltdown. For sure, I am not the only one in "red alert" mode, given repeated 9 August 2021 newspaper accounts of UN Secretary-General António Guterres calling the IPCC report "...a Code Red for humanity".

My guess is that even persons aware of and even obsessed with climate change will not be reading the full IPCC report, so I think it worthy to quote somewhat extensively from the "Summary for policymakers", i.e.,

It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred [Ibid., p. 6].

The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years [Ibid., p. 10].

Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts,and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened since AR5 [Ibid., p. 11].

Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades [Ibid., p. 18].

Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming. They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones,as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost [Ibid., p. 20].

Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle,including its variability, global monsoon precipitation and the severity of wet and dry events [Ibid., p. 26].

Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level [Ibid., p. 29].

Natural drivers and internal variability will modulate human-caused changes, especially at regional scales and in the near term, with little effect on centennial global warming. These modulations are important to consider in planning for the full range of possible changes [Ibid., p. 32].

… followed by the "musts", "shoulds" and "oughts":

From a physical science perspective, limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality [Ibid., p. 37].

Scenarios with very low or low GHG emissions (SSP1-1.9 and SSP1-2.6) lead within years to discernible effects on greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations, and air quality, relative to high and very high GHG emissions scenarios (SSP3-7.0 or SSP5-8.5). Under these contrasting scenarios, discernible differences in trends of globalsurface temperature would begin to emerge from natural variability within around 20 years, and over longer time periods for many other climatic impact-drivers (high confidence) [Ibid., p. 41].

[IPCC Summary, 2021]

So, I am not inventing emergencies. We have done all of these things to ourselves. To top it all off, the tepid responses so far have given us the current situation:

With further global warming, every region is projected to increasingly experienceconcurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers. Changes in several climatic impact-drivers would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming and even more widespread and/or pronounced for higher warming levels [Ibid., p. 33].

Low-likelihood outcomes, such as ice sheet collapse, abrupt ocean circulation changes,some compound extreme events and warming substantially larger than the assessed very likely range of future warming cannot be ruled out and are part of risk assessment [Ibid., p. 36]

It is not as if humanity has not been sufficiently warned that the current emergency is upon us. Numerous markers have been set forth over recent years, ones collective humanity has ignored or tried to mitigate with limp responses.

Along with various scientific organizations doing their work on global warming, The United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-606) presented in its 1500-page 23 November 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment [2018] issued by the U.S. Congress:

Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.

For those arguing that doing anything meaningful to slow, if not stop, actions promoting global warming, this report says:

Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century [Ibid.].

For those realizing we all live in an integrated and interdependent world,

Climate change affects the natural, built, and social systems we rely on individually and through their connections to one another. These interconnected systems are increasingly vulnerable to cascading impacts that are often difficult to predict, threatening essential services within and beyond the Nation’s borders [Ibid.].

In 2018, the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) reported in the Global Trends [Treverton et al., 2018] series,

Climate change, environment, and health issues will demand attention. A range of global hazards pose imminent and longer-term threats that will require collective action to address—even as cooperation becomes harder. More extreme weather, water and soil stress, and food insecurity will disrupt societies. Sea-level rise, ocean acidification, glacial melt, and pollution will change living patterns. Tensions over climate change will grow. Increased travel and poor health infrastructure will make infectious diseases harder to manage.

James Hansen [2012] and other climatologists have been raising the red flag for years on global warming, as in:

Actions to stem emissions of the gases that cause global warming are unlikely to approach what is needed until the public recognizes that human-made climate change is underway and perceives that it will have unacceptable consequences if effective actions are not taken to slow the climate change.

Indeed, even a cursory search for "climate change", "global warming", and related phrases will take one into a veritable warren of peer-reviewed scientific literature detailing polar cap melting, methane craters, ocean acidification with its attendant consequences, like coral reef bleaching, massive irreversible temperate zone glacial melts, and one of the more recent findings of the "…early-warning signals for a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation" [Boers, 2021]. Says the University of Copenhagen [2021],

The AMOC is the key circulation system of the Atlantic Ocean. It moves heat from the Tropical region to the Northern hemisphere by transporting warm water masses northward at the ocean surface, and returning as a cool current southward at the bottom of the ocean.

For this last, Arctic polar cap ice melting churns more freshwater into the current of water traversing from the tropics to the area south of Greenland, the diluted water staying on top, the saltwater below, the layering upsetting the circulatory movement.

Scientific findings are not supposed to be about what we merely should believe but, as the philosopher knows, believed with justification, that is, epistemologically. Persons aware of global warming and its consequences generally realize how science "works". Those denying such I maintain belie their deep ignorance of scientific methods, are ideologically bound to the prevailing social system and its values, expect financial reward from such denial, are ignorant or mistrustful, or entertaining some other factor not compatible with climate change mitigation. For the ignorance, we look to the school system, more particularly a curriculum lacking adequate philosophy of science and scientific methods, ethics courses, as well as environmental education. Yet, both groups need this article.

As can be seen by reading these and many other reports, scientists have said we should, ought, need, and (insert an imperative) to survive. Two necessary elements for change lack: base values and a social structure underpinned by a philosophy to implement them.

It is time for academics, especially philosophers, to step up to the plate and call for what they tell their charges in the classroom to do: question generally through critical thinking, but more profoundly, question their core values, what is important to them and their environment, i.e., society. My "should" is that it is the responsibility of enlightened leadership to truly lead by assembling the necessary curriculums and modes of implementing them, as well as by example, demonstrating to the doubtful what true leadership for the benefit of humankind really looks like.

How do we organize our thinking to see a brighter future than the one predicted now? Events do not simply happen; they have a becoming, from origin through the present. Doctors refer to the etiology of diseases, and it is not farfetched to regard the collectivity of humanity as an organism, it too beset by illnesses such as environmental destruction, corruption, overpopulation, consumerism, and resource depletion. At least these are symptoms of illness, what I call more explicitly an illness of ethos.

Aristotle wrote 2400 years ago in his Physics II 3 and Metaphysics V 2 of something's essence and how it comes to be, peculiarly – to us – "causes". I see it a useful model to organize our thoughts.

We look about us, seeing things as they are, to Aristotle something of which it is made but expanded to include processes (weather systems, organic growth, molecular valence, etc.). These material causes (known to us in the present by our senses and experience – empirically) are the environment and what is occurring in it. The above description I think summarizes the material cause of our climate emergency.

Our destination – what it is to be – for Aristotle is normally what happens when something reaches its fruition, as in the oak tree being the formal cause of the acorn, the form attained. To us, if we do not act, is the Holocene Extinction.

As the teacher is the efficient cause of knowledge imparted to the student or the shoemaker the creator of the shoe, so we are the efficient cause of our teleology, formal, cause, be it the Holocene Extinction of survival and hopefully self-improvement. We already know the source of our problems: ourselves.

These are the three causes so often written and talked about. Left out is the reason for it all, Aristotle's final cause. What drives our existence? Why are we here, and so forth? More substantially, what are our core values?

Scientists already know what needs to be done to avoid the Holocene Extinction. How am I to avoid my own charge of simply presenting another admonition and imperative, even though it is a solution? More explicitly, how would I implement it? At this point, then, the audience to whom this piece is directed can at least agree with the opening sentence of this paragraph and unlimited production and wasteful material growth requiring more of this planet's resources and energy are deleterious to our survival. Philosophers refer to "teleology", the end to which the present is directed. In between is how one arrives at the "destination". I now come to Aristotle's final cause, that which drives our existence.

I see two impellers, just like you might see in a pump.

The first is expressed by the old adage, "Necessity is the mother of invention.", and unless the subspecies responds appropriately … . Well, you fill in the rest. We need to invent a way out of the current emergency. Think of one of those survivalist videos, a person trapped on a deserted island, lost in the middle of a jungle, or stranded in the desert. Eating weird plants, building a shelter from pine bows, or drinking water from an old tire do not seem to be such bad ideas when your survival is at stake. Yet, panic, unguided actions, and either manic "party animal" behavior or suicide are not viable options, either. Panic often drives persons to even more unsustainable directions, in the present case, dictatorial regimes, territoriality, and conflict – cyber and violent, and other irrational actions. In the current situation, hopelessness just about guarantees the Holocene Extinction.

Our second impeller, a partial response to the previous, is ourselves, more explicitly, looking at who we are – from where we came until now. What we are observing are symptoms of a human disorder. Now, the doctor, after seeing the symptoms of the disease global warming first, s/he looks at the etiology, what generates the illness.

Belaboring the obvious concerning climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation, and other factors contributing to the Holocene Extinction has been done by myriads of competent scientists, but less common is focusing on the origin of the problem. Intermediate is the source of energy and resource demand, both fomented by perceived want and need, accompanied by growth and production driving the prevailing economic system. Steady-state systems are not promoted, the prevailing ideology being quite the contrary, from growth and production to stimulating planetary energy demand [Riley, C., 2021]. We need to – this is two-pronged – scientific requirements, and human ones.

We already know what needs to be done for the most part - reduce our use of energy, stop reliance on fossil fuels and/or their carbon footprint, and develop renewable sources, just like the doctor telling the patient to quit smoking to reduce the risk of cancer or controlling the diet to combat obesity, and so forth.

Outlining prescribed normative behavior often trails writing describing climate change, environmental degradation, and so forth, and authors sometimes do touch on consumerism, materialism, and hedonism, but lacking is what prompts these effects and the social structure within which alternatives values are to be found.

Yet, as the doctor should ask why a person is overeating, smoking, or acting in a self-destructive manner, I ask "Why is the human subspecies so gluttonous to consume, consume, consume?". More pointedly, how can human behavior be changed? First, we need a historical perspective on habituation to the current frame of mind, because this indicates motivation, and identifying motivation often reveals core values, again, ethos.

From a historical perspective, I think of the Medieval period, the bulk of humanity living in squalor, compared to how the religious hierarchy and royalty lived. Perhaps, no wonder it was incorporated in the various rebellions, marked by events like the Magna Charter of 1215 and later by the U.S. (1776) and French (1789) revolutions, were demands for individual autonomy and the "right" to acquire private property. Overshadowing these developments was the desire to escape the grinding poverty, thus shifting the focus from religious obedience and mere survival to material acquisition.

Life, as Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) observed, is short, nasty, and brutish. More in history was to follow, the decision about improving life's physical condition or "getting right with God" taking priority. As an aside, a whole body of literature exists on the rigid U.S. Puritan ideology of the early 1600s, Cotton Mather, and the witchcraft trials. Max Weber (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) observed that the "compromise" was God shining his light on the industrious/productive individuals destined to Heaven. Certainly, this would be an opportunity to settle the question of "purpose".

Improved material conditions at least theoretically would raise the expectation of more non-work-related time. Correspondingly, a person could choose to allocate that time to self-improvement or hedonistically, maximizing pleasure [Jeremy Bentham, 1789/1823]. Now, after technological achievement and more leisure time, we come to that often-talked-about "fork in the road", but how not only do we make a choice but how do we travel that road? Let's look at you, the traveler.

Until we look inwardly and identify our ethos, all externals – desires, goals, policies, directives, and so forth – will remain isolated, without context, and have no effect. In other words, we need to reflect upon who we are, our identity. I contend that so much of our turmoil in the world stems from not being able to locate ourselves, instead engaging in destructive behavior like identity politics and its outgrowth a "cancel culture", about which I have elaborated extensively [Horne, 2021]. Here, the signs of alienation are all about us – gangs, suicides (especially among teenagers) [CDC – suicides, 2015], gun violence, bullying on social media, and depression rates. We also have ignored virtue, or, as the old U.S. Army motto used to say, "be all you can be". Not anyone can be a doctor, engineer, skilled craftsperson, president, or anything else. Each person has her/his own potential. An equalitarian ideology cannot change this. Neither will the myth of "rugged individualism" compensate for individual deficiencies. Everyone has a valuable place; everyone fits in. No person is an island, all of humanity, itself, an organism dependent upon the integrity of its individual members, and conversely. Too, we have flouted the essential distinction between episteme, the quest for truth and knowledge (education), and techne, the application of education (training). Here, we have morphed the two into treating the routine (techne) as novel (episteme), thus confounding the path to virtuosity.