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October 2014 - Volume 20, Number 4

   

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People’s Climate March: The Face of True Belief #PeoplesClimate

by Dr. William M. Briggs, Ph.D., Cornell University

Ready for a surprise? I liked everybody I met at the People’s Climate March in New York City. I mean it. I liked them so much I hated what I had to write about them.

 

I liked the group which wore real cabbages for headpieces, including cabbage horns. I liked the anarchists from West Virginia University who were sure the capitalist system which allowed them to go to school and come to this march had failed.

 

I liked the guy who said he had home-built his own electric car which could go 100 mph for 100 miles, built from lithium batteries scavenged, somehow, from Chinese submarines.

 

I liked the young lady who said she had played in orchestras for major movies and who gave me her CD Plastic Bag (one song features what sounds like one being opened). Remarkably, I saw separately (and without foreknowledge) three of my former students, all of whom I liked — and still like.

 

I even liked the young man from Deep Green Resistance who was advocating, but vaguely promising not to himself participate in, but would, he said, support wholeheartedly if it occurred, “industrial sabotage” and other forms of “militant action” against “nodes” which when taken out would set off “chain-reaction events” to destroy the country.

 

I liked that absolutely everybody was sincere, absolutely everybody was concerned, and absolutely everybody was kind, open, and eager to talk. It was a party and people were of good cheer. I enjoyed myself.

 

Belief Versus Knowledge

 

Importantly, absolutely everybody believed. Everybody believed that the world was in deep kimchee, and they believed it was far past the time to do anything about it, which is why they believed something should be done now. Namely eliminate capitalism, which everybody disliked. Everybody believed that all the Arctic ice was melting, or already had melted, and everybody believed that climate change was already killing people — 30,000 a year murdered by climate change was the figure often repeated.

 

Many carried signs stating what they believed. “CO2 dumping is morally wrong,” “Fracking = Death,” “Limit Temperature Increase by 1.5 Degrees.” A group boasted, “We can end climate change.” A lady had “If you like drinking water, stop ozone slaughter.” A young lady had “We have a right to snow and ice.” (Tell Iowans that come December and January!)

 

One young man wore a t-shirt which said, “Ask me, I’m the expert on the solution.” I asked him what the solution was. He only giggled.

 

A set of marchers carried the sign: “Climate Change is real. Teach Science.” I asked one holder, “Don’t all teachers teach about global warming? Do you know any who aren’t?” He said, “Oh, I just got the sign today. It’s probably happening, though.”

 

There weren’t only signs. There were puppets, too. The largest was meant to be, I was told, Mother Nature, but it looked more like one of those frowsy fiftyish women in muumuus. Some befeathered native shamans capered about a paper mâché god. I was told they were offering it prayers. It was a popular display because the shamans were dressed in loin cloths and dancing.

 

On the south side of the park sat about forty yoga people. They had a sign which read “Earth Vigil.” The crowd in the parade went nuts over the yoga people. One lady shouted happily, “Oh look! They’re meditating!” The Hare Krishnas who Hare-Krishna’d by looked down their noses at the yoga people. A young man said he was happy the parade was inter-faith. He was excited about inter-faith, and noted especially that, to his understanding, Buddhism “was very sex positive, unlike Christianity” and that a lot of people came to Buddhist meetings “to meet girls.” He also attended all the good marches, including Occupy Wall Street. To pass the time he took out his soccer ball and bounced it on his knee.

 

 

Some women from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas passed by, carrying signs demanding justice. I asked one Sister what justice meant. She wasn’t sure, and neither was her sign-mate, but she told me to talk to the Sister in charge who, they said, might confirm that “justice” meant “acting in harmony with all creation.” She didn’t answer that, but lamented that it was difficult to attend marches like this because they had to raise their own funds, “which is now harder, since we’re all getting older.”

 

The two keys

 

It might not seem like it, but the two confused sign-carrying Sisters were the key to the parade. Rather, one of the two keys. Your reporter lost count of the number of times he asked somebody what the poster they were carrying meant, or asked why they had come, but who couldn’t answer except to point and say something like, “You should ask her. I don’t really know too much about it. I just came with my friends.”

 

This lack of curiosity was especially found in the union marchers, who always like a public event. Union members thought their appearance would help increase jobs and pay, and the regular people felt it was an excuse to have a good time. It’s not that all these folks didn’t believe in “the cause,” but that they couldn’t or didn’t want to articulate it. Marching was just the thing to do.

 

The second and larger key was more depressing, best illustrated by the group representing Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group which had initially been against nuclear weapons, but seeing as that threat dwindled, and that the docs were unwilling to disband, they cast their eye towards global warming.

 

This was a group of scientists, so surely they would understand how science worked. I asked them how did they answer critics who showed that global temperatures for the last eighteen or so years bounced around a little, but showed no increase. Didn’t that mean global warming wasn’t true?

 

“It’s a temporary blip” said one. Another said, “A lot of the heat is in the ocean.” I reminded this doctor that the global climate models claimed to incorporate ocean circulation, and so if the models the IPCC relied on missed saying the heat was in the oceans, the models must be wrong. So why did he still believe? He considered my question, but didn’t answer.

 

I asked him, as I asked many people, “Actually, for more than two decades, the models have been saying the temperatures would be way up here, but they haven’t increased at all, or only by a little. Doesn’t this mean we shouldn’t believe the models? That they are in error? Isn’t that the scientific way?” The doctor narrowed his eyes, now full of suspicion, and considered who I might be. He said nothing, even after a follow-up question.

 

I never from anybody received an answer to any of these science questions. If anybody ever understood me, and most did not, the questions were beside the point. It didn’t matter what the science really said. These people believed. And that is the danger.

 

 

Dr. William M. Briggs is Adjunct Professor of Statistics at Cornell University. He holds an M.S. in Atmospheric Science and a Ph.D. in Statistics. He can be reached at wmbriggs.com. Originally published September 22, 2014. Reprinted with author’s permission.

 

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