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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Logical fallacies and the environment: the straw man

with 2 comments

DIlbert-straw

In the strawman fallacy one side of the argument is presented as so extreme that no one could agree with it. Often this is done by referring to the exception, rather than the rule, and inferring that the exception is the rule.

Typical strawman-type statements include:
• We either leave right now or we’ll be stuck forever
• All PETA supporters endorse the bombing of animal laboratories
• You believe in evolution? Have you ever seen a chimp give birth to a human baby?

Many common strawman fallacies in environmental discourse center on climate change. For instance, consider the following, heard on the campaign trail: “We could reduce carbon emissions in Canada to fight climate change, but that would mean that no-one would be able to drive their car nor heat their homes. I don’t think that’s what Canadians want.”

Another strawman example from the environmental debate is illustrated in the diagram below. Some people oppose sustainability initiatives (such as the non-binding agreement UN Agenda 21, referred in this diagram as A21). They build a strawman of world domination (what environmentalists are really after, supposedly) so as to make their opposition sound more reasonable. But nobody who is a serious proponent of sustainability is advocating Marxist-like government control (they may be advocating for a carbon tax or a reform of the building code instead).

strawman

In her website about fallacies, Rosa Rubicondior says it best:

Look beyond the straw man to the motives of those who assiduously create them and what do we see? We see people who know they need to create straw men to attack in the first place. What we don’t see are people who have seriously looked at the science itself and made an effort to understand it, and who may be genuinely puzzled by it or genuinely mistaken about it.

Note: As instructors we’re supposed to instill in our students critical thinking abilities. So this semester I included in my Environmental Issues class a review of some common logical fallacies with examples taken from the environmental scene. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t find such a collection through a Google search. So I started crafting my own by collecting examples of logical fallacies that occur in environmental news and discussions.  Previous posts in the series: either-or; ad hominem.

 

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Written by enviropaul

February 28, 2016 at 6:07 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] Note: As instructors we’re supposed to instill in our students critical thinking abilities. So this semester I included in my Environmental Issues class a review of some common logical fallacies with examples taken from the environmental scene. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t find such a collection through a Google search. So I started crafting my own by collecting examples of logical fallacies that occur in environmental news and discussions. Previous post in the series:the strawman. […]

  2. I find it quite scary when people attack the environmental argument as in the example you attached to this post. Environmental degradation is one of the greatest threats posed to mankind- that isn’t an attempt at distraction, that’s fact. It could cause trillions of dollars of damage, force the movement of tens of millions of people and further strain the scarce resources we have left. Fighting over these resources could start. Humanity’s effects are causing further damage- and trying to distract people from the real issue by comparing environmental protection to Marxism plays on people’s emotions (Marxism has largely negative connotations, and not without reason) to make them believe that environmental degradation and climate change are a hoax. The only result all of this arguing will produce is nothing- nothing new will be done and the environment’s fate will be sealed, because of constant back and forth. I think if people weren’t so misinformed about the environment this wouldn’t be such a problem- many don’t understand that in reality climate change activists just want to protect the planet and our children’s futures. Is that such a ridiculous ask? The antidote proposed is also not Marxism (obviously, this is the straw man fallacy used here). This is why environmental education is so important! Thanks for posting this. It helps reveal our silly the anti- environment argument is.

    Jozef Hands

    October 1, 2016 at 2:39 am


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