When I was growing up, one saying I remember hearing is “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” The takeaway for me was that opinions were… whatever. What really mattered in deciding a question was real evidence, expert insight and logical conclusions.
What a difference two decades of alt-right and social media makes. Now, in the minds of some people anyway, a person’s “opinion” should carry equal and even greater weight than actual evidence collected, analyzed and vetted by well-educated scientists using state of the art instruments.
“I’m entitled to my opinion,” is how that sentiment is typically expressed. For a group that usually rages against “entitlement”, it’s especially ironic.
If we still lived as we did… oh, in Biblical times, or even the early 1950s, it maybe wouldn’t be a problem —at least, as big a problem as it is now. But we don’t live in Biblical times. Or the early 1950s. We live in 2020. And in our fast-paced technological world, we simply can’t afford to ignore what the scientific evidence is telling us about our current reality on Earth.
If you have a contrary opinion, and are able to back it up with actual data and sound science, welcome to the discussion. But uninformed opinions based on nothing more than partisan political talking points, naked self-interest, a hunch, feeling, belief (religious or otherwise) — uh, uh. Sorry. No.
Climate change is the obvious example. We’ve been gathering serious data on the issue since the 1960s, and the evidence is clearly in — climate change is real, and we are rapidly running out of time to cut our GHG emissions to avoid catastrophic consequences.
No amount of fossil fuel propaganda from industry and government boosters can change that. It’s the same with COVID-19. These global pandemics are breaking out with increasing frequency. And as we are seeing now, they can have a devastating impact.
The United States is a poster child for that. Naked political and economic self-interest are probably most at play in the Trump administration’s “positions” on both climate change and COVID-19. But the well-documented influence of conservative evangelical Christians in the Whitehouse is a major factor too. In some of his messaging on COVID-19, Trump has pandered to evangelical Christians. Reports even surfaced on the weekend of church leaders in the southern U.S. ignoring restrictions on public gatherings and holding services with hundreds of people. And the result, with the U.S. the runaway leader in global infections, has not been pretty.
Further evidence of magical thinking can be found in Mexico, where COVID-19 is still picking up steam. There, president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has also tried to downplay the pandemic — to the point of touting prayer cards with religious messages as a protective shield against the virus. In Brazil, notorious right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has exempted evangelical churches from restrictions on public gatherings that are designed to limit the virus’s spread.
Here at home, the Saskatchewan Party government’s response to COVID-19 (and climate change too, of course) hasn’t always been informed by the best scientific evidence either. Minister of highways and infrastructure Greg Ottenbreit’s recent tweet quoting scripture and urging people to pray and repent to deal with COVID-19 may not be official government policy, but it’s definitely indicative of a mindset that exists in the party.
Climate change is still the preeminent threat facing humanity. Our current battle with COVID-19 is just a small taste of what’s to come. That’s what the science has shown us. And no amount of magical thinking cloaked as “opinion” can change that reality. And we need to understand that if we’re to survive and thrive into the future.