There's a new, if rather clunky, phrase going around the political commentariat at the minute - 'tribal epistemology'. Coined by US journalist David Roberts, the concept is confirmation bias writ large where the validity of any statement, whether it's blindingly obviously based on measurable facts or the craziest conspiracy theory, is determined by whether or not it suits the tribe you are part of. Tribal epistemology often renders rational debate redundant and often takes us deep into tin foil hat territory.

The climate 'debate' has long been defined by this phenomenon. The climate change denial movement believes that climate change is a cover for dangerous socialism, many of its leading lights noting that the science emerged into the public sphere at about the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. QED. There is even a far-left denial clique who believe that climate change was invented by Margaret Thatcher to destroy the UK's coal miner unions. Both views, of course, require a massive, highly-disciplined conspiracy by the scientific community sustained over decades, which is hilarious if you've ever spent time in a University faculty tea room.

Feeding the paranoia of the reds-under-the-climate-bed deniers of course are the various people who claim that we cannot cure the climate problem under the capitalist/free-market system and that only socialism is the answer. This makes me smile as my inspiration to dedicate my life to Sustainability was witnessing ecological devastation in Russia wreaked by Soviet-era industry.

As I wrote last month, those of us who cling to enlightenment values of rational debate shouldn't feel we have to beat the tribal loons into submission – because we won't win arguments with people who have invested so much personally in irrational concepts. The most dangerous belief in Sustainability is that we have to get everybody on board. We don't, we just have to do Sustainability.

This time last year, the UK had its first coal-free day since the industrial revolution. This week we had three days straight with no coal-fired power. The Sustainability revolution is happening, tribal epistemology or no tribal epistemology. Let's make it go faster.

 

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