Fighting Poverty Vs. Saving Bears?

In this essay, John Baden argues that a consensus on contentious climate change will force difficult choices.

Published: 13-Jul-2006

Three decades ago, it was rare to get three summer cuttings of hay at our ranch -- now this is the norm. Global warming is a plausible explanation. Barbra Streisand, Al Gore, and many scientists have proclaimed consensus: global warming is occurring, we are causing it, and the consequences are significant. But the question remains: If this consensus is justified, how should we act?

Wide consensus on unimportant matters is of little ethical consequence: Coke is better than Pepsi and plaid clashes with stripes. This is also true of important phenomena beyond our influence: the sun rises in the East, liquid boils when its vapor pressure reaches atmospheric pressure, and hairy caterpillars harbinger a cold winter.

But when issues have serious implications for the well-being of others, enforced consensus often signals a paucity of critical thinking and a wealth of cowardice. When consequences affect innocent others, it's ethically and intellectually irresponsible to stifle opposing viewpoints. Under forced consensus, opportunistic pretense trumps honest reflection.

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