Sunday, April 21, 2019

Biff’s Easter Message 2019

Today, Easter Sunday, Passover, the first Sunday after the full moon following the Spring equinox, many people celebrate an event that may have happened about 2000 years ago in Palestine; others celebrate events that may have happened in the Bronze Age in Egypt; yet others celebrate more ancient traditions of springtime.
But who looks 2000 years and further into the future? By then most of the world’s great ice masses, already out of equilibrium with today's climate, now over 1°C warmer than before we started burning the coal, will have melted, raising sea levels by 50 metres or more. Many of today’s cities will lie deep underwater and much of today's most productive farmland will be drowned. Unless rapid mitigation measures are enacted immediately temperatures will rise to the point at which much of the Earth's land surface will be uninhabitable. Civilisation as we know it will have been long gone. Whether the human species will be extinct or whether remnant populations will have found ways and means to survive is uncertain. What is certain is that the Holocene, those several thousand years of climate stability during which human civilisation developed and then inadvertently and irreversibly, changed the Earth's climate, will be long gone.
This moment is our best, our only, our last chance to change course. It requires a rebellion against all that led us to this position.
In the UK some continue to claim that the UK is a world leader on climate change. They point out that in 2008 the Labour government introduced the Climate Change Act. At the time, the UK was indeed the world leader, but of a very poor bunch. Not only was that legislation weak and not fit for the purpose of saving civilisation from climate catastrophe, but the UK is currently on a trajectory that will miss the legal commitments:
"Climate Change Act 2008 Section 1. The target for 2050
(1) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline."
The current Secretary of State, Michael Gove, is acting outwith the Law.
#ExtinctionRebellion does not call for 80% reduction by 2050 but 100% reduction by 2025. It is an ambitious target which itself will only mitigate and not stop the destruction. Some decry it as too difficult, even impossible. Not achieving this target, however, brings intolerable consequences for the next generation.
The gulf between government complacency and the existential requirement of the next generation is unbridgeable. Either the government will change or the lives of our grand-children will be nasty, brutish and short.
It is the duty of everyone to join the Extinction Rebellion.
Happy Easter.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Logical Fallacy of Hypocrisy

Many people are quick to use the false argument of hypocrisy to denounce climate protesters of the Extinction Rebellion. “They went by car.” “They have leather shoes.” “They drink coffee from a plastic cup.” Etc. It’s nonsense of course. My advice to lead a good life is no less valid, as good advice, if I myself am a sinner.

Here is how the late David Fleming approached the issue as he wrote in his philosophical masterpiece, Lean Logic.

Hypocrisy, The Fallacy of.  The fallacy that, if what I do falls below the standards of what I say, my argument can be dismissed without more ado.  The fallacy arises from the obvious discomforts of a contrast between good words and bad deeds, like those of Measure for Measure’s Angelo, upright in public, outrageous in private.
And yet, if an argument is a good one, dissonant deeds do nothing to contradict it.  In fact, the hypocrite may have something to be said for him.  For instance, he may not be making any claims at all about how he lives, but only about his values in the context of the argument.  There is no reason why he should not argue for standards better than he manages to achieve in his own life; in fact, it would be worrying if his ideals were not better than the way he lives.  He is not dazzled by his high personal standards; he does not make an icon of himself as the model of high moral standing.  He is not defended by his sincerity from the possibility of self-criticism.  His ideals are not limited to what he can achieve himself.  What matters is whether his argument is right or not.  With accusations of hypocrisy in the air, difficult questions about real problems short-circuit into ad hominem quarrel.
Hypocrisy is a bad thing with good qualities.  Sincerity is a good thing with bad qualities; it shines a light on the simple certainties of your feelings on the matter, rather than on the awkward realities of the case.  Some of the most intensely savage people this planet has ever produced were noted for their sincerity and their incorruptible and austere lives.  There was Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), largely responsible for the reign of terror during the French revolution, but, in his own life, he was the “Sea-Green Incorruptible”.  And there as Conrad of Marburg (d. 1233), thin with fasting, who, in imitation of Jesus, rode on a donkey from place to place on his mission to discover and burn heretics and witches.  For ground-breaking catastrophes, we have to turn to the incorruptible.  We are safer with those who are not preoccupied with admiration of their own moral standing, confident that they can think no wrong.
If required to choose between sincerity and hypocrisy (writes the theologian David Martin), “Give me a friendly hypocrite any day”.