I want to thank you for your efforts over the last several years to draw attention to a pressing problem that’s facing our planet: global warming. Your time, your campaigning, your organizing, I think it has been honorable. However, that’s not the purpose for this letter. I’m concerned that you’re the de facto spokesman for scientific community on the matter of global warming.
Why is that concerning? Let me illustrate by using an example seen in the public presence of renowned biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, a brilliant and passionate scientist/educator, is also an atheist. While the scientific community knows him more for his science, the general public knows him more for his atheism. He has in fact called for militant atheism and seeks to reduce the influence of religion, much to the discomfort of many fellow evolutionary biologists. In his TED video on militant atheism, he says:
There is an effective evolution lobby coordinating the fight on behalf of science, and I try to do all I can to help them, but they get quite upset when people like me dare to mention that we happen to be atheists as well as evolutionists. They see us as rocking the boat … But here, I want to say something nice about creationists. It’s not a thing I often do, so listen carefully. I think they’re right about one thing. I think they’re right that evolution is fundamentally hostile to religion. I’ve already said that many individual evolutionists, like the Pope, are also religious, but I think they’re deluding themselves. I believe a true understanding of Darwinism is deeply corrosive to religious faith.
So why does he cause anxiety among fellow biologists, despite his tireless efforts to promote understanding of evolution? Because he is also serving (perhaps willingly) as the poster child for religious fundamentalist efforts to demonize evolution and diminish its importance in school curricula. Dawkins, being so visible for his atheism, is a perfect example in the eyes of many of why evolution is Godless and anti-religion. To biologists who simply wish for the science of evolution to stand on its own merits, and to biologists who are religious, Dawkins is often a distraction.
Now, I admire Dawkins. I respect his intelligence and his passion, and I can even sympathize with his motives and reasons for what he is trying to do. However, he is an awful spokesman for the scientific community’s efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of evolution. His indelible and unmistakable association with what many view as an unrelated and controversial subject (read: atheist activism) hurts his ability to further science, and in fact can often serve to galvanize those who oppose certain science instruction in the classroom.
Mr. Gore, you also have your baggage, which I’m sure you’re aware of. Your name recognition has probably helped your campaign to increase awareness of the reality of global warming. However, before you traveled across the world to educate, you were a politician that was highly unpopular with the very demographic that most strongly rejects both the science you seek to promote as well as any necessary corrective legislation. Many global warming deniers feel that if your credibility is undermined then it proves that global climate change science is obviously a giant, elaborate hoax.
Those who follow scientific developments understand that you’re merely someone who has taken up the call to arms to fight for the planet. But to the others, a simple chain email pointing out your hypocritical and copious consumption of energy, or linking your liberal politics to efforts to curb climate change, well, these tangential “victories” are all that’s needed to close their minds to the possibility that the scientific community might actually be telling the truth. Now, I certainly believe that these types of people will jump on any little needle-in-a-haystack bit of evidence as uncontested proof that refutes the entire body of work of thousands of climate scientists the world around (“Hey, it snowed today! Global warming is obviously a hoax!”). However, I think we need to disentangle politics from global warming here.
Politics can often have a corrupting effect (even if only perceived) when mixed with other non-political fields. Religion and politics. Science and politics. Those hoping to further understanding of evolution would do best to limit its association with the controversial subject of atheism, just as those hoping to further understanding of climatology would do best to limit its association with politics. Let the science speak for itself. Let the politicians, separately, determine what those scientific facts mean and what needs to be done.
One of the common criticisms of Dawkins is that, although he is an expert biologist, he is a pretty poor theologian. This makes it easier for people to dismiss him as uninformed when he wanders out of biology land. The parallel to you, Mr. Gore, is that you’re viewed primarily as a politician, and any legitimate expertise in your comprehension of climatology is unlikely to change the way people view you.
If there must be a public representative, perhaps we can find someone more purely involved in science to be the face of global warming. Bill Nye the Science Guy, maybe? In any case, I think there’s always an inherent danger in having a single spokesman, especially when that person has such strong ties to other controversial subjects. Perhaps what would be best, Mr. Gore, is if you step into the background a little bit more. I realize you’ve done so in the years past since An Inconvenient Truth, but I still encounter people who’s primary rebuttal against global warming involves invoking your name in some way. So please, continue using your leadership skills, connections, and passion to promote this cause. But relinquishing the limelight is something that I believe could prove beneficial, even if just a little.