There are studies on pretty much everything from bicycling to climate change. And then there are those who misinterpret the findings of studies, whatever the topic.
Let’s start with bicycling.
Others have decided that bicycling is good for me and Finns in general. I beg to disagree. It could be life threatening. Either for me or those who collide with me. For collide we would, inevitably. My bicycling skills are non-existent.
There is a survey called the Bicycling Barometer making the rounds in Finland. The survey is cited as proof that 57 per cent of the adults living in Helsinki bicycle at least once a week when there is no snow on the ground.
Of the 5804 people contacted by phone for the survey, 3800 declined to answer. Most of them probably did so because they had nothing to say about bicycling. Only 2004 answered (all of them probably avid bicyclers). Of them, 57 percent unsurprisingly bicycled at least once a week.
You can see where this is going. Research findings lie. More accurately; people citing them lie when they deliberately misinterpret the facts.
As far as bicycling and city planning is concerned, this may lead to life threatening results for me, but not for whole generations of people.
Which brings me to climate change.
When it comes to misrepresenting research results, the bicycling mafia plays in junior league compared to those who oppose climate control.
While I am no big fan of forced bicycling, I am a big fan of doing what needs to be done to ensure that future generations don’t have a climate catastrophe on their hands.
I have to be honest here. I trust the data providers that inform me that global warming is indeed happening. I have no real first hand knowledge. My personal data collection is too limited both in terms of know how, time and geography.
It’s slightly confusing when I am told one day that Finland is going to get a lot warmer, and the next day that the winters might actually get colder.
However, if institutions such as the World Meteorological Organisation and NASA tell me that we live in a greenhouse and that human expansion of “the greenhouse effect” is the main cause of global warming, who am I to argue.
Humans have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by more than a third since the industrial revolution began. This is the most important long-lived “forcing” of global warming, according to experts. Other gases such as methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons contribute too. Not to mention water vapor.
There is an abundance of data to back this up, but I can see where Donald Trump is coming from. He is in the “everyone lies” corner. He thinks he knows they do, because he does it himself.
For every chart that proves that the greenhouse effect is ongoing and global warming is a real threat, Scott Pruitt, Ted Cruz, and other climate change sceptics have a chart that “proves” that this is not the case.
Research findings may not always be as clear-cut as one would wish, but they are conclusive enough for me to support the Paris climate agreement. If something can be done to avoid the negative effects of climate change, I am all for it.
Donald Trump has a different approach. For him it’s all about the next presidential election. Which will come and go long before his voters recognise any negative effects of climate change.
Backing out of the Paris agreement was supposed to be an easy way to woo disenchanted supporters. Once again Trump failed to do his homework. He claimed to have been elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh not Paris, but Pittsburgh was quick to remind us that Hillary Clinton received 80% of the vote in Pittsburgh.
The people of Pittsburgh have no need to base their opinions purely on research findings. They have first hand experience of various forms of pollution. No wonder a majority of them support the Paris agreement.
Whether we are talking about bicycling, climate change, or Pittsburgh, we have research to fall back on; even if our reading of the findings may differ.
But let’s cycle on.
There is another climate change, a political one, taking place. One with little research to provide clues on how to handle the fallout.
I am referring to widespread terrorism. We are all grappling to understand it and cope with it.
How should we react? Should we bow to fear? What should we fear? How do we stop this from happening?
Even worse, are we getting so used to reports of attacks that they don’t affect our daily routine much?
Britain has just experienced three terrorist attacks within three months. France has experienced even deadlier attacks in recent years, and several other European countries have been targeted too.
Too many people want to chime in and claim a piece of the action. ISIS is there to take the “credit” for the attacks themselves. Others are there to take the credit for fighting ISIS. And then there are those who exploit the fears evoked by the attacks to sell their political agendas.
I just read a thought-provoking article titled “It was decided to kill 11 million Jews, and then lunch was served – the plan for the holocaust was made in an hour.”
The article told the story of Adolf Eichmann, the man who implemented the above-mentioned plan after it had so casually been agreed upon, and Hannah Arendt, the political theorist and writer who traveled to Jerusalem to follow his trial.
In her book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”, Arendt raised the question whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness; the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critical evaluation of the consequences.
Terrorist attacks are not thoughtless in the way Arendt describes. They are radical. Research may prove me wrong, and Arendt might disagree with me, but I can see no banality in the terrorists’ evil.
There is, however, a risk that as we lash back at the terrorists, we may thoughtlessly stoop to the banality of evil. When mistrust builds and the measures we take to prevent terrorist attacks become stronger, human rights can get trampled all too easily,
British surveillance laws give the police and security services broad powers. The perpetrators of the latest attacks were all known to the authorities. It is safe to assume that the tactics of the authorities will get more aggressive as attacks continue and frustration grows.
Maybe that is what ISIS is betting on; a cycle of evil, both radical and thoughtless. While ISIS loses territory on land, we may unwittingly allow it to gain territory in our heads.
All things considered, maybe I will take up bicycling after all. Compared to everything else it sounds so simple and safe.