In these days of ecological overshoot, about the only experts I can abide are climate scientists. Without the facts we get from scientists, what would we say to climate science deniers?
So I’m glad to see more climate scientists step out of the ivory tower in the world’s hour of need.
But sometimes I wish even climate brainiacs would stick to their labs and leave public policy alone.
Smarter than a sixth grader?
I’m thinking of the scientists who have shown themselves so wise on the danger of fossil fuels but so foolish on the promise of nuclear power: the two Jims in particular, James Lovelock and James Hansen that is, who say that nukes offer civilization’s only salvation from climate hell.
After Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima, any sixth grader can understand that nuclear reactors are too risky today and that radioactive waste is too dangerous to the future.
But it takes an expert to be truly seduced by the atom.
Of course, neither nukes nor any other fancy energy source is going to ride in and save global consumerism from running dry. We’ll just have to face the hard reality that technocrats will die denying — namely, the sooner we embrace a way of life that’s lower tech and more local, the better chance humanity will have for a decent future.
Now, with Fukushima looking worse and worse, I’m not high on experts.
Not just the experts who gave us nuclear power. Also the experts who gave us GMOs and factory farming, collateralized debt obligations and military drones, Tumblr and Pinterest, abstract expressionist painting and post-structuralist literary criticism.
And let’s not forget the lobbyists who gave us thousand-page bills in Congress.
Any technocrat, in fact, who uses human happiness as an excuse to make the world more complicated. You can have ’em all.
A gift to be simple
If Better Living through Science is on track to turn nature’s green and pleasant land into a vale of tears, then I’ll take Worse Living through Just-Winging-It, thank you very much.
That’s why this quote from Sir Albert Howard speaks to me. A pioneer in the organic farming movement well known today by readers of Wendell Berry or Joel Salatin, Howard was the kind of expert that the non-expert could love. Just see what he has to say about experts from his 1947 essay “How to Avoid a Famine of Quality”:
The greatest danger to avoid in future work is fragmentation — that curse of science, of administration, of education and of our present way of life. It has arisen because knowledge has grown at the expense of understanding. The inevitable result has been a plague of so-called experts, for the most part men and women who have wasted their lives in learning more and more about less and less, all sublimely unconscious of the fact that at the end of the road along which they are traveling will be found the ideal expert — an individual who knows everything about almost nothing.
Front page slideshow image by Scott McLeod.
— Erik Curren, Transition Voice