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Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson

Posted: September 22, 2008 02:09 PM

General Motors Continues to Send Mixed Messages on Global Warming


I have been participating in a dialogue with Tom Wilkinson of GM for the past several days. Here is my response to Tom's most recent comment, from Friday evening.

Tom wrote:

First, I don't think it is entirely fair to imply that Bob Lutz went on the Colbert show to mock established science. He went on the show to promote the Chevy Volt. Which is the product of established science. Steven brought up global warming. It made for good shtik.

Regardless of what his intentions were (and his intentions are questionable), the result was the same. A General Motors corporate executive with a history of denying global warming went on a widely watched television show and pushed a thoroughly discredited theory on the science of climate change. For a company with a supposedly firm commitment to being environmentally responsible, this is not acceptable. I am not the only one who feels this way, see this, this, and this.

Tom wrote:

Second, I perceive a critical misunderstanding here of what "established science" is. Yes, the theory that human activity contributes to climate change is widely accepted by the scientific community -- and by many at GM. However, as Thomas Kuhn notes in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," this theory is only a paradigm. Even within science, paradigms need to be challenged, and they are, every day. When an environmentalist (or anyone else) assumes that what we know today will be the same forever, they show a high-school-level understanding of science. In fact, they are behaving more like religious believers than scientists. They could benefit from a good Philosophy of Science course.

The condescension is not helpful and does not add anything to this conversation. This is not about my (or anyone else's) understanding of the philosophy of science. This is about General Motors' apparent inability to put forth a consistent message with regard to your policies on climate change. When the official policy says one thing, and spokesmen for the company publicly say the opposite, there legitimate is cause for concern.


Also, correct me if I'm wrong here, but the above argument doesn't seem to hold water. Aren't you basically saying: "The nature of science is such that we can't ever know anything for sure. Since that is the case, we shouldn't take the consensus of the vast majority of scientists into account when we are designing cars because we may come across new information in the future that changes our assumptions." Let me know how your argument differs from the above.

Tom wrote:

Which gets back to my central point -- Policy at GM is set by a board of directors and a senior leadership group. And under this policy, GM is making a major global commitment to developing advanced propulsion technologies, which can moderate our reliance on imported oil and reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. That multi-billion dollar investment is what really matters, not some shtik on a late night Comedy Central show.

By allowing Bob Lutz to publicly challenge the near-consensus on the implications of human-caused climate change, the board is impeding the above-stated commitment. I renew my call for General Motors to do the right thing and remove Bob Lutz from such a prominent and public position. At the very least he should be reprimanded for repeatedly belittling the company's stated corporate policy.

Since Tom failed to answer my question last week, and chose to instead argue about semantics and the philosophy of science, I'll rephrase the question and pose it again:

Does GM subscribe to the fact that humans have played a role in increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? Do you believe that this is the view held by an overwhelming majority of scientists?

If your answer is no, can you point out credible claims to the contrary?

If your answer is yes, why do you provide a platform for, and defend, someone who disagrees with an overwhelming majority of scientists?

I'm eagerly awaiting your reply, Tom.

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