TAG | Climate Change
In the course of an article triggered by the bullying of climatologist Lennart Bengtsson, Mark Steyn digs up this extract from a tremendous “imaginary address” by Yale law professor Stephen Carter to America’s Class of 2014, currently so busy, as Steyn puts it, “disinviting truckloads of distinguished speakers from their graduation ceremonies”:
The literary critic George Steiner, in a wonderful little book titled “Nostalgia for the Absolute,” long ago predicted this moment. We have an attraction, he contended, to higher truths that can sweep away complexity and nuance. We like systems that can explain everything. Intellectuals in the West are nostalgic for the tight grip religion once held on the Western imagination. They are attracted to modes of thought that are as comprehensive and authoritarian as the medieval church. You and your fellow students — and your professors as well; one mustn’t forget their role — are therefore to be congratulated for your involvement in the excellent work of bringing back the Middle Ages.
They never really went away (see Marx, K., to start with), but otherwise spot on.
And, yes, read the whole of both Steyn and Carter’s pieces.
While there are perfectly good scientific reasons for accepting the theory of AGW, the certainty, the fervor and the moralizing displayed by some in the climate change crusade look very much like a form of religious belief. Under the circumstances it’s no surprise to see this new faith incorporated into the teachings of more conventional churches.
The Guardian has an excellent recent example of this phenomenon:
Religious groups have urged Pope Francis to back a campaign to encourage millions of people, organisations and investors to pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry. Multi-faith groups in Australia and North America have sent a letter to the pope saying it is “immoral” to profit from fossil fuels. The letter, shown exclusively to the Guardian, says 80% of global fossil fuel reserves must “stay in the ground” if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.
The letter sent to the pope’s offices in February is co-signed by the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and US-based GreenFaith.
…GreenFaith executive director, the Rev Fletcher Harper, said: “Pope Francis’s support would provide a powerful validation of the moral rightness of divestment and reinvestment in response to the climate crisis, and would immediately signal the need for dramatic action. It would be of vital significance.”
The modish and tacky elision of ‘green’ and ‘faith’ is revealing enough, but a visit to GreenFaith’s website fills out the picture still further. It makes for grimly entertaining reading:
Worship leaders can integrate “raw” natural elements into worship services. For example, worship can include containers of water, earth, plants, leaves from local trees, or other natural elements placed in the worship space and visible to all. These natural elements can beautify a sanctuary and deepen worshipers’ relationship with God.
And so it goes on.
I was, however intrigued by this detail lurking in the Guardian piece:
The letter to the pope was sent a week before Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was appointed to an influential senior position within the Catholic church and the Vatican as the head of a new secretariat for the economy.
Cardinal Pell has expressed extreme scepticism of the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change. In 2011 he delivered the annual lecture of the UK’s sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord Nigel Lawson, and claimed carbon dioxide was “not a pollutant” and animals would not notice a doubling of atmospheric CO2.
He said climate change campaigners were following a “mythology” which he said was attractive to the “religionless and spiritually rootless”.
I don’t agree with the cardinal on CO2 (the argument is considerably more complex than that), but I do agree with him (I agree with a cardinal!) when he talks about the appeal of a certain type of environmentalism to the “spiritually rootless”.
Like it or not, most people possess a religious instinct. To borrow that old X-Files line, they “want to believe” : greenery can fill that gap. It can, quite clearly, also garnish the faith of those who have already found a pew.
Barbara Ward (1914-81), a former foreign editor of the Economist and much more besides, plays an important part in Rupert Darwall’s The Age of Global Warming, a new book that is, among other things, a fascinating intellectual and political history of the evolution of the climate change movement.
Ward believed in a form of mid-century command-and-control that was reinforced by her take on the Christian ethic (she was a fairly devout Roman Catholic). This passage in Darwall’s book caught my attention:
She lobbied the Second Vatican Council on Third World Development. In 1967, Pope Paul VI established the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, with Ward as one of its members. The encyclical, Populorum Progressio, ‘The Development of the Peoples’, with its criticism of ‘unbridled liberalism’, its call for ‘concerted planning’ and the creation of a ‘World Fund’ are all evidence of Ward’s imprint.
Interesting to see that the Vatican was moaning on about ‘unbridled liberalism’ at a time when it existed, well, nowhere. It’s a handy reminder that Benedict XVI’s disingenuous attacks on ‘financial capitalism’ and similar-sounding comments from the likable sort-of-Peronist who has succeeded him, represent just the latest manifestations of a long strand in Roman Catholic thinking.
Here’s the Guardian in full “wacky Americans” mode:
About one in four Americans suspect that President Barack Obama might be the antichrist, more than a third believe that global warming is a hoax and more than half suspect that a secretive global elite is trying to set up a New World Order, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
The survey, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling, asked a sample of American voters about a number of conspiracy theories, phrasing the questions in eye-catching language that will have the country’s educators banging their heads on their desks. The study revealed that 13% of respondents thought Obama was “the antichrist”, while another 13% were “not sure” – and so were at least appeared to be open to the possibility that he might be. Some 73% of people were able to say outright that they did not think Obama was “the antichrist”.
The survey also showed that 37% of Americans thought that global warming was a hoax, while 12% were not sure and a slim majority – 51% – agreed with the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment and thought that it was not. The survey also revealed that 28% of people believed in a sinister global New World Order conspiracy, aimed at ruling the whole world through authoritarian government. Another 25% were “not sure” and only a minority of American voters – 46% – thought such a conspiracy theory was not true…
The Guardian being the Guardian, the questions the paper highlights are those that make the (presumed) right look nuts. It goes unmentioned that 14 percent of Americans apparently believe that believe the CIA was instrumental in distributing crack cocaine into America’s inner cities in the 1980s – and that another 30 percent are “not sure” about this dastardly plot.
More broadly, however, I always wonder whether people truly believe what they say they do in response to questions in surveys such as this. If as many as a quarter of all Americans really think that Obama is (or could be) the antichrist, wouldn’t they make a little more noise about it?
As for global warming, it’s impossible not to note the way that the writer goes to such pains to assert his own orthodoxy with additional commentary (“the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment”) that has no equivalent elsewhere in the piece, suggesting just a little defensiveness, something that might not be entirely inappropriate at a time when even the AGW true believers at the Economist can write this:
It is not clear why climate change has “plateaued” (see article). It could be because of greater natural variability in the climate, because clouds dampen warming or because of some other little-understood mechanism in the almost infinitely complex climate system.
Now, as I have written before, I am, to use that loaded term, no ‘denier’ (as conventionally understood, at least: I just believe that some of the AGW faithful need to ponder the implications of those words “infinitely complex” with a little more care). I certainly don’t think that AGW is a “hoax”, as that word is conventionally understood. That said, my guess would be that many of those who used that term were merely using it as a way to express their all too understandable suspicion that “global warming” has, for some, become something of a racket, based on a “consensus” that is not quite so soundly based as the public is usually told.
And then we come to the ”sinister” global conspiracy. The Guardian’s writer spiced up the actual question (adding that adjective, and removing the qualifier that the plan was to take over the planet “eventually”) which was as follows:
Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not?
That’s something of a stretch, to put it mildly, but read another way, there is plenty of truth to the idea that a supra-nationalist class is moving away from the idea of sovereign national democracy, and replacing it with regimes and treaties that are, if not authoritarian, certainly post-democratic. The EU is the most notorious example, but some of what the UN has been aiming at, whether it be with regard to climate change, the control of narcotics and, recently, firearms could be seen that way too. It’s melodramatic to describe this as a conspiracy (and much of it is being done in plain sight), but it is a reality, and it’s not too hard to imagine those who disapprove of it, wishing to register their discontent by labeling it with language more normally used for dark intrigue and shadowy cabal.
Then again, some people are just nuts. Take a look at the full survey. It’s a good read…
We shall have to see whether the conclusions drawn by this reporter (for Religion News) reflect his own biases or is indeed what the pontiff does have in mind.
The pope’s homily was striking for its repeated references to environmental protection, highlighting what is likely to be a central theme of his papacy and setting up the 76-year-old pope as a leading activist against climate change.
Posted earlier on the Corner:
It helps sell religions, movies, political agendas: Is there nothing that the prospect of apocalypse cannot do?
Abel Ferrara made his new film “4:44 Last Day on Earth” to serve as a wake-up call to humanity over impending ecological disasters.The movie, by the director of 1992′s “Bad Lieutenant,” focuses largely on one couple — played by Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh — passing their final hours on Earth as they Skype their goodbyes to loved ones from a New York City high-rise.
“The bottom line is this film is about man’s destruction of the Earth,” Ferrara told reporters Wednesday in Venice, where the film is being shown in hopes of snaring the top Golden Lion prize later this week.
“This isn’t about a meteorite, this isn’t … some horror show. This is about humanity not coming to terms with its carbon footprint,” the director said. “It’s on us. It’s our responsibility.”
The time in the title is the exact hour before dawn when humanity ceases to exist. The exact calamity which befalls Earth’s citizens isn’t ever spelled out, although there is an “ozone-hole” theme. At one point, viewers see, as a backdrop, an image of environmental advocate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore projected on large screen TV giving an interview. “We reached out to Al, we reached out to Gore, definitely,” Ferrara said.
Of course he did.
Full disclosure: I enjoy ‘end of the world’ movies. Even 2012. I’ll be off to see this one…
…I’m not one of those people who believes snowfall necessarily disproves every claim made by warming-obsessed climatologists. Rather the snow crisis demonstrated, in high definition, the gap between the fear-fuelled thinking of the elite and the struggles of everyday people. It illuminated the million metaphorical miles that now separate the fantasy politics of our so-called betters from the concerns of the rest of us.
Not surprisingly, with snowstorms smothering Western Europe and the East Coast of America, many asked: ‘What happened to global warming?’ On the 20-hour bus-and-boat-and-train-and-car journey I took from London to Galway, surrounded by people forced to make a similar trek because their flights were also cancelled, there was much jocular banter along the lines of: ‘So this is the climate change we’ve been warned about…’ As people made new friends and arranged impromptu carpools for the final legs of their journeys, there was a palpable sense that the world we inhabit is not the same as that inhabited by greens. That isn’t surprising when you consider that greens have been telling us for the past decade that snow will disappear from our lives. Literally…Newspapers provided us with a ‘hellish vision of life on a hotter planet’ where deserts would ‘reach into the heart of Europe’ and global warming would ‘reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles’.
Dramatic stuff. And unadulterated nonsense. The thing that occupied people’s minds at the end of 2010 was not how to explain to their sweating children in the deserts of Hampshire why snow disappeared from our lives, but rather how to negotiate actual snow. Again, this isn’t to say that the snow proves there is no planetary warming at all: if it is mad to cite every change in the weather as proof that Earth is doomed, then it’s probably also unwise to dance around in the slushy white stuff in the belief that it proves that all environmental scientists are demented liars. But the world of difference between expert predictions (hot hell) and our real experiences (freezing nightmare) is a powerful symbol of the distance that now exists between the apocalypse-fantasising elites and the public.
What it really shows is the extent to which the politics of global warming is driven by an already existing culture of fear. It doesn’t matter what The Science (as greens always refer to it) does or doesn’t reveal: campaigners will still let their imaginations run riot, biblically fantasising about droughts and plagues, because theirs is a fundamentally moralistic outlook rather than a scientific one. It is their disdain for mankind’s planet-altering arrogance that fuels their global-warming fantasies – and they simply seek out The Science that best seems to back up their perverted thoughts. Those predictions of a snowless future, of a parched Earth, are better understood as elite moral porn rather than sedate risk analysis….
Spot on, I think. And an old, and all too familiar, story.
Fears that global warming will shut down the Gulf Stream and plunge Britain into a mini-ice age are unfounded, a study shows. There is no evidence the phenomenon – which brings a constant flow of warm water and mild weather to northern Europe – has slowed down over the past 20 years, climate scientists say. ‘The changes we’re seeing in overturning strength are probably part of a natural cycle,’ said researcher Josh Willis, from Nasa…The idea that a slowdown of the ocean currents would trigger such a rapid change in climate is pure fantasy, explained Dr Willis.
That doesn’t end the scientific discussion (many climate studies suggest that the Gulf Stream will slow over the next century, bringing a gradual cooling effect to Europe) but it does make a nonsense of the filmmakers’ apocalyptic vision. Luckily for them, this will make little difference to true believers. The lesson of history is that the Big Day can be postponed almost any number of times without too much damage to the faith that spawned it. Oh well.
Here’s how a contributor to the Skeptic’s Dictionary defines confirmation bias:
Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs. For example, if you believe that during a full moon there is an increase in admissions to the emergency room where you work, you will take notice of admissions during a full moon, but be inattentive to the moon when admissions occur during other nights of the month. A tendency to do this over time unjustifiably strengthens your belief in the relationship between the full moon and accidents and other lunar effects.
This tendency to give more attention and weight to data that support our beliefs than we do to contrary data is especially pernicious when our beliefs are little more than prejudices. If our beliefs are firmly established on solid evidence and valid confirmatory experiments, the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that fit with our beliefs should not lead us astray as a rule. Of course, if we become blinded to evidence truly refuting a favored hypothesis, we have crossed the line from reasonableness to closed-mindedness.
And that’s a definition that brings me to the curious case of New Moore Island:
A tiny island claimed for years by India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal has disappeared beneath the rising seas, scientists in India say. The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Delhi says there has never been a permanent settlement on the now-vanished island, which even in its heyday was never more than two metres (about six feet) above sea level. In the past, however, the territorial dispute led to visits by Indian naval vessels and the temporary deployment of a contingent from the country’s Border Security Force. “What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming,” said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.
And so the story goes – and is spread by the faithful. But, as always, adding a dose of the skepticism that ought to be an essential element of an environmentalism of doubt is called for.
Turning to Watts Up With That (to be sure, a skeptic site) we read that such “temporary estuary islands and sandbars appear and disappear all the time worldwide. Sometimes it can take a few years, sometimes a few centuries. Note that most of the area near South Talpatti Island is only 1-3 meters above sea level anyway, which means that such low lying islands made of mud and sand are prone to the whims of tide and currents and weather.”
Fair point, I reckon. And its importance is not that it disproves the idea that this lump of mud and sand was a victim of AGW. It doesn’t. What it does show, however, is that claims that the disappearance of New Moore can definitely be put down to climate change have to be treated with a fair degree of skepticism. And for some people that skepticism seems to have gone missing.
Well, religions are like that.
Here’s the Sunday Telegraph’s Christopher Booker:
As the roof continues to fall in on them, in an endless succession of scandals, the beleaguered defenders of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have at last managed to mount a riposte by coming up with a “scandal” of their own. Under the headline “fabricated quote used to discredit climate scientist”, The Independent recently trumpeted that a quotation attributed by “climate sceptics” to Sir John Houghton – one of the IPCC’s founders and long a key figure in the production of its increasingly alarmist reports as chairman of its scientific Working Group I – was an invention. Sir John was now insisting, as he again did in a letter to last week’s Observer, that he never said it or anything like it.
The sentence the former head of the UK Met Office now denies ever using – although in the past four years it has been cited unchallenged more than 100,000 times on the internet – was “unless we announce disasters, no one will listen”. In what looked like a concerted operation, Sir John’s disclaimer was circulated to sympathetic journalists across the world, along with demands for corrections and apologies issued to various prominent “climate sceptics” who had publicly quoted the remark…
…But what also came to light, thanks to that admirable expert on “risk”, Professor John Adams, and Professor Philip Stott, who for years was almost the only voice critical of climate hysteria in the British press, is an interview Sir John gave to The Sunday Telegraph in its “Me and My God” slot on September 10, 1995. As a fervent evangelical Christian, Sir John claimed that global warming might well be one of those disasters sent by God to warn man to mend his ways (“God tries to coax and woo but he also uses disasters”). He went on: “If we are to have a good environmental policy in the future, we will have to have a disaster”.
You can see a PDF of the quote here.
To repeat again, none of this ‘disproves’ climate change. What it does do, however, is shed a most interesting light on the nature (for some) of their belief in it.