Apocalypse Postponed

The reason that stories of apocalypse run through so many religions is partly due, I suspect, to the persistent and widespread belief that this wicked old planet needs a sharp sheep-and-goats moment and, also, to the fact that the end of the world is a rattling good yarn. As for those who believe that this exciting event will occur shortly, a certain vanity is also at play – the belief that their time is somehow special.
One of the ways in which (for some) a belief in AGW has taken on the characteristics of a religion is that it caters to this millennial craving, promising catastrophe and promising it soon. The film The Day After Tomorrow was a striking example of this phenomenon at work. It offered viewers a devil (a Dick Cheney-like vice president), the redemption of a chosen few and, best of all, the prospect of imminent catastrophe, in this case based on the idea that the Gulf  Stream would suddenly be “switched off” with pleasurably destructive consequences.
Unfortunately, this scenario may have run into a snag. The Daily Mail has the details:

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.

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3 Responses to Apocalypse Postponed

  1. John Quiggin says:

    It’s striking that a secularist site is running anti-science arguments pioneered by creationists, in this case that science is a religion.

    The belief that reliable scientific information is to be obtained by reading the Daily Mail is rather less defensible than the belief that it is to be found in Genesis.

    Every major scientific organization in the world has stated that the evidence for human-caused global warming is overwhelming, but your rightwing tribalism is sufficient to ignore it all. Why then, fight with your fellow rightwingers over evolution?

  2. Andrew Stuttaford says:

    John, if you have the time and inclination, please take a closer look at what I’ve been writing on this topic. I have been very careful throughout to say that a belief in AGW is only akin to a religion for *some*. The nature of that belief is an interesting topic, and one that ought to be of relevance to this site.

    I have also taken pains to point out that much of the criticism of the AGW ‘process’ quoted by me falls far short of ‘disproving’ the underlying AGW hypothesis. What it does do, however (at least I hope it does), is shed some light on why some people in the AGW community are behaving/believing in the way that they do.

    As it happens, I think that the AGW hypothesis is far from unreasonable, even if the extent of AGW (now and in the future) and what to do about it ought to remain the topic of legitimate debate.

    Finally, as an alternative to the Daily Mail here’s a link to another piece on the Gulf Stream, this time from Science Now. It tells the same story. http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/03/steady-as-she-goes-for-oceans-co-1.html

  3. Pangloss says:

    “Every major scientific organization in the world has stated that the evidence for human-caused global warming is overwhelming”


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