Thursday, 5 November 2009

Climate change Thursday #14

There was a landmark case this week when a sustainability manager for a residential landlord, Grainger plc, was awarded permission to appeal against his dismissal on equality grounds: his 'belief' in man-made climate change constituted a philosophical belief and so was covered by the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003. The regulations encompass, "any religion, religious belief, or philosophical belief".
His solicitor, Shah Qureshi, said: "Essentially what the judgment says is that a belief in man-made climate change and the alleged resulting moral imperative is capable of being a philosophical belief and is therefore protected by the 2003 religion or belief regulations."
Wendy M Grossman takes on Tim Nicholson, the man at the heart of the unfair dismissal case, in a column on The Guardian website today. She concludes:
"Religions have beliefs. Science is not a belief system but the best process we have for establishing the truth, piece by independently replicated piece. Nicholson should be appalled by the ruling he has won."
So are we dealing with a philosophy or are we dealing with science and should Tim Nicholson have been given the opportunity to contest his dismissal on equality grounds?

My first instinct was to disagree with Wendy M Grossman. It is often the case that anthropogenic climate change nay-sayers (whenever I call them 'deniers' they get all semantically stroppy so I'll keep away from the word for this week only as a special treat) accuse those who accept the science -i.e. pretty much all the world's scientific, policy-making, and corporate communities- of being religious.

Ms Grossman is absolutely right to refute that accusation as I do. Man-made climate change is real. It is grounded in the highest quality scientific research conducted by some of the world's leading scientific institutes, organisations, and academic establishments. We can certainly accept the causes of climate change with well in excess of 90% certainty. What the precise consequences will be are more debatable but we can look at various scenarios, none of which are good news.

However, environmentalism is a different thing. Given anthropogenic climate change there are a wide variety of responses. We could do nothing and accept the consequences: huge loss of life, extinction, famine, drought, floods, extremely hazardous weather events, war, and mass migration amongst other things. We could try to halfheartedly mitigate it. Or we could choose to adopt the conviction that collective action to avert disaster is possible but it requires sacrifice and imagination- we've managed it before so why not again?

Environmentalists of all different persuasions believe in the latter course. I count myself in that group. It is a political and philosophical outlook. The philosophical bit is based on the Brundtland Report in 1987:
"Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
My only qualm with that quote is that it is not about future generations only. It is already about the people who inhabit this globe today.

The political belief is the conviction that, no matter how great the challenge, we have within us, as a global political community, the ability to fundamentally alter course should we so choose.

That is why my instinct was to disagree with Wendy Grossman: anthropogenic climate change is science but environmentalism is a belief (though one that it is debatable whether it falls under the Employment Equality Regulations given that it has a political component in my view.)

In the end though, I ended up agreeing with her as a result of both the statement from Mr Nicholson and the statement of his solicitor which combines science and belief. To recap, his solicitor said his philosophy was: "a belief in man-made climate change and the alleged resulting moral imperative." The first element is science but the second is belief- it is very dangerous to combine the two. The simple fact is that if you do then you allow those who would challenge the belief to, by default and extension, challenge the science also but without any requirement for scientific rigour.

However, I do wish Mr Nicholson, who is clearly a committed and articulate environmentalist, all the very best in securing the change that he and I believe in.

No comments:

Post a Comment