Climate Change Dishonesty

Once upon a time a lot of people were worried about something called global warming. The idea was fairly simple. The modern industrial world was producing much more carbon dioxide than we did in days gone by. Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas; it traps heat, so the theory was that if we put too much of it in the atmosphere, the world would start warming up, hence the phrase global warming. And sure enough, global temperatures did increase during the period 1975 to 2000. Since then, however, even though we are producing more and more carbon dioxide, temperatures have stayed obstinately flat.

Shortly after temperatures stopped rising, the phrase ‘global warming’ went out of fashion, and we started talking about climate change. Almost at the stroke of a pen this enabled us to forget the embarrassing fact that carbon dioxide doesn’t seem to be causing global warming any more. Climate change can mean anything you want. Hot summer this year? Climate change! Coldest February since records began? Climate change! Too wet, too dry, too anything else? Climate change! Let us link arms, brothers and sisters, and boldly go forth to fight climate change!

The phrase ‘climate change’ used in this way is intellectually dishonest. It implies that without modern civilization the climate on our world would always be idyllic. The sun would always shine, winters would be mild, summers warm, and everything we need would grow on trees.

Climate is always changing, regardless of the human race. 20,000 years ago, for example, we were in the middle of an ice age, and much of North America was buried under a mile of ice. Since then, the ice has melted. Now that’s climate change. It’s hard to see climate change happening because it changes very slowly, in terms of decades and centuries, but change it does. Fighting climate change is about as sensible as fighting gravity. People who unthinkingly demand that we fight climate change remind me of George Orwell’s sheep in Animal Farm, who ran around bleating four legs good, two legs baaad.

Besides this underlying intellectual dishonesty about climate, there is a more frightening dishonesty among the scientists who, for one reason or another, adhere to the climate change school of thought. An example of this comes from the 2006 testimony to the US Senate of Dr David Deming, a respected geophysicist at the University of Oklahoma:

I had another interesting experience around the time my paper [on borehole temperatures] in Science was published. I received an astonishing email from a major researcher in the area of climate change. He said, “We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period.”

The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was a time of unusually warm weather that began around 1000 AD and persisted until a cold period known as the “Little Ice Age” took hold in the 14th century. Warmer climate brought a remarkable flowering of prosperity, knowledge, and art to Europe during the High Middle Ages.

The existence of the MWP had been recognized in the scientific literature for decades. But now it was a major embarrassment to those maintaining that the 20th century warming was truly anomalous. It had to be “gotten rid of.”

‘Get rid of’ is a political phrase, not a scientific one. A scientist might conceivably say “I have discovered new evidence which casts doubt on the existence of the Medieval Warm Period”, but saying “We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period” expresses a political desire, not a scientific truth.

There seems to be a double standard among many scientists. You can advance any theory you like, no matter how tenuous the evidence or preposterous the reasoning, and provided your theory supports the idea of man-made climate change, you will be taken seriously and your theory will be published in a scientific journal. However, if your data and conclusions do not support man-made climate change, no matter how meticulous your work, you can pretty well forget about being published. To quote Dr Deming again:

The week the article appeared, I was contacted by a reporter for National Public Radio. He offered to interview me, but only if I would state that the warming was due to human activity. When I refused to do so, he hung up on me.

As with most phenomena of this nature, the reason for it isn’t hard to find. It can be summed up in one word: money. In the twenty-first century to date, a total of about $3 trillion has been spent worldwide on so-called green energy, mainly wind and solar. Now ask yourselves how much of this would have been spent if the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ had never entered our consciousness. For three trillion dollars you can buy yourself a whole lot of tame scientists who will gladly say whatever you want them to say.

Many of us think of scientists as superhuman beings who know everything. Put the word Professor in front of someone’s name and he or she automatically becomes an awesome fount of knowledge beyond the comprehension of mere mortals like us. Unfortunately scientists, particularly academic scientists in universities, are as human as the rest of us, and are just as anxious to advance their careers. Academic scientists are usually dependent on outside sources to fund their research, which is the main route to advancing their careers, and if the owner of those funds says climate change is the thing nowadays, well, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘go along to get along’. In the present global political environment it takes a brave academic indeed to stand up and say that human-caused climate change is nonsense.

I started off as an academic scientist, then switched over to industry, where I spent many years designing radar systems. Just for the record, the work we were doing with radar was equally as complex as anything being done in a university laboratory, but we were subject to a constraint that academics are not – the customer. If you are an academic scientist you can develop a theory that increased carbon dioxide emissions are going to cause people’s toenails to explode, and you may very well be taken seriously and have your work published in a scientific journal. The equivalent for such as myself in industry would be to claim that we had designed a lightweight radar which would detect a mouse at a thousand miles range. The problem in our case is that eventually the customer would come along with those dreaded words – “OK, show me”. Intellectual dishonesty is not a survival trait in industry.

I don’t mean to say that all academic scientists are cynical liars. However, most scientists live in little silos and are afraid to venture outside. You may have heard the story of a group of scientists at a conference where one of them said “the sky is blue”. The others said to themselves “does he have the academic credentials to say that? How many papers has he published on atmospheric physics?”. Most university scientists spend their lives learning more and more about less and less, and are frightened of venturing outside their narrow little specialities in case they get put down by another scientist into whose speciality they have strayed. As a result, very few of them see, or are willing to stake their professional reputations on, anything but a tiny slice of the problem. In this respect, scientists are more easily fooled than non-scientists.

All of us, scientists included, are being cynically manipulated by those who stand to make a great deal of money by scaring people with the bogeyman of climate change. Whether or not there is such a thing as man-made climate change, the aura of intellectual dishonesty surrounding the whole subject makes me very suspicious of it.

 

Renewable energy in the real world

Renewable energy will solve all our problems! A wind- and solar-based renewable energy system which will free us from all carbon emissions is within our grasp, and all we have to do to attain power Nirvana is reach out for it with trust in our hearts. What’s not to like?

Whenever I hear this I am reminded of Hyman Rickover’s opinions on the development of nuclear reactors back in the 1950’s. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover ran the US Navy’s nuclear reactor development program and was intimately familiar with the real-world problems that this involved. He understood full well the difference between pipedreams and reality, or, as he referred to it, between the academic and the practical. He had this to say in 1953 about the difference between academic and practical reactors:

An academic reactor almost always has the following basic characteristics: (1) It is simple. (2) It is small. (3) It is cheap. (4) It is light. (5) It can be built very quickly. (6) It is very flexible in purpose. (7) Very little development will be required. It will use off-the-shelf components. (8) The reactor is in the study phase. It is not being built now.

On the other hand a practical reactor can be distinguished by the following characteristics: (1) It is being built now. (2) It is behind schedule. (3) It requires an immense amount of development on apparently trivial items. (4) It is very expensive. (5) It takes a long time to build because of its engineering development problems. (6) It is large. (7) It is heavy. (8) It is complicated.

An academic renewable energy system is very similar to the academic nuclear reactors described above. You just have to put up a few wind turbines and solar arrays and presto! the world will be full of bluebirds and unicorns, and electricity will be too cheap to meter. After all, we don’t have to pay for any fuel costs: wind and sunshine are free!

Now let’s take a look at a practical renewable energy system. Wind turbines only work when the wind is blowing at the right speed. Too little wind and there is not enough energy to generate any power. Too much wind and the turbines must be shut down lest they overspeed and burn out. In Ontario this means that the conditions for wind turbines to generate power occur about 25% of the time. Similarly, solar arrays only work when the sun is shining, which means that in Ontario they also generate power about 25% of the time. Consequently, whether we use wind or solar power we will need back-up power for the 75% of the time that wind and solar aren’t available. Usually this comes from gas-fired power stations. When the wind blows at the right speed or the sun shines, we can switch off the back-up power. However, large-scale gas-fired power plants don’t run at their best when they are constantly switched on and off. Far better to let them run 100% of the time, in which case we can dispense with the wind and solar altogether which, when all is said and done, are merely bit players.

Another awkward characteristic of practical wind energy systems is that all those thousands of wind turbines have to be serviced. When you service a gas-fired power station you shut it down for a week or two every year (‘scheduled maintenance’), take the covers off everything, and let your technicians get to work in air-conditioned comfort. Servicing wind turbines means sending a crew to each and every one of those thousands of individual turbines, often in difficult-to-get-to, out of-the-way spots, then climbing up to a cramped nacelle at the top of a tall mast … you get the picture. Servicing a large fleet of wind turbines is very expensive.

Yet another awkward characteristic of practical wind energy systems is that turbines are located where the wind blows strongest, which is not necessarily where the power they produce is wanted. You therefore tend to have lengthy, and hence expensive, grid connections to get the power to where you want it. Gas-fired power stations, on the other hand, can be built fairly close to where the power is wanted. Oh, and because of the intermittency of wind and solar power, the grid system needs to be much more robust, and hence expensive, than if you have steady power as you do with gas-fired power stations.

And then there is the question of robustness of the power generators themselves. Gas-fired power stations don’t really care about the weather, even if there’s a hurricane blowing. Wind turbines and solar arrays however are quite fragile and do care about the weather. Before the recent hurricane season, Puerto Rico had some large solar arrays (with emphasis on the word had). Wind turbines have to be shut down if the wind blows too strongly, otherwise they have a nasty habit of bursting into flames or falling to pieces.

All of which goes to explain why renewable energy is so much more expensive and less reliable than energy from more conventional sources such as gas-fired plants. A gas-fired plant can profitably sell electricity at 6 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). Wind power gets 11 to 13 cents per kWh in Ontario, while solar gets about 40 cents per kWh. However, whenever the wind blows or the sun shines, the grid system operator is obliged to take power from wind and solar operators in preference to any other sources. They have to do this, otherwise nobody would ever want to take wind and solar power, because it’s too expensive. Furthermore, wind and solar power are contractually required to be accepted whenever they are produced, regardless of whether the power is needed or not. Since wind is often strongest at night, when power demand is very low, Ontario is often in the position of having to sell wind power to other jurisdictions (usually in the US) at whatever price it can get. Sometimes this is a negative price; we have to pay them to take our power. Meanwhile, the wind turbine owners are still being paid at 11-13 cents/kWh for whatever they produce.

Of course, the aficionados of renewable energy tell us that these are merely minor inconveniences, and in reality we are saving the planet by not generating any carbon dioxide. It seems almost churlish to tell them that, as a result of the increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, our planet has greened by 14% over the last thirty years, i.e. there is 14% more vegetation cover on our planet than there was thirty years ago.

Whether or not carbon dioxide is harmful (and this is a moot point, in spite of the constant drumbeat of assurances by our political masters that ‘the science is settled’), one thing is certain. Whoever is making sacrifices to save the planet, it isn’t the owners of wind turbines and solar arrays.

 

Electric Heating

We hear many times from politicians and assorted activists that in order to save the planet we must convert our homes to electric heating. No more carbon dioxide-spewing oil or gas heating, all heating must henceforth be from clean, carbon-free electricity. The future of our planet depends on electric heating!

Politicians love to make these kind of virtue-signalling promises and declarations, but in fact electric heating is a very inefficient form of heating which would result in most cases in more carbon dioxide being released, not less. Here’s why.

The electricity for your home heating will most likely be generated by a gas-fired power station. Yes, you may have wind and solar energy available, but these only work when the wind blows and the sun shines. We need heating mostly at night when it’s coldest, and the sun obviously isn’t shining then, so forget solar. People will be justifiably upset if you tell them that when the wind drops they must shiver, so forget wind for the most part as well. If you want everyone to have reliable electric heating, you must have gas-fired power stations.

A gas-fired power station burns gas in a furnace to make steam, which drives a steam turbine, which in turn drives a generator to create electricity. That electricity is then sent down some long wires from the power station, via various transformers and switchgear and so on, to your house where an electric heater converts the electricity back into heat. In effect, your house is heated by the gas which is being burnt at the power station. The steam turbine and generator and transmission system are just intermediaries to get that heat to you.

Power station

So far so good. But let’s look at the way the process works in greater detail. The steam turbine is what we call a heat engine, whose purpose is to convert heat energy into mechanical energy. You put in very hot, high pressure steam at one end, and the result is a rapidly spinning turbine and some not-so-hot steam coming out at the other end; we have converted some of the heat of the steam into the mechanical energy of the turbine. But herein lies a problem; it’s impossible to convert all the heat in the steam into mechanical energy, and we are therefore forced to throw most of it away. This is why power stations have cooling towers; their purpose is to dump the unusable heat to the atmosphere.Cooling towers

Typical thermal efficiencies for power stations are about 40%, meaning that the energy value of the electrical power that they produce is only about 40% of the energy value of the heat generated by burning gas. The other 60% of the heat is thrown away. There is no way around this problem, which is a matter not just of engineering design but of basic physics.

Now let’s follow that electricity on its way to your house. Electrical engineers have a technical term for long wires carrying electric current; they call them heaters. Depending on how far you are from the power station, you can have a 10% or more loss in the electrical energy being sent to you, because it is dissipated as heat along the way. Consequently, of the original heat that was created at the power station by burning gas, 60% is lost at the power station itself, and several more per cent can be lost along the way, so the heat delivered to you in your house typically represents only about one third of the heat generated at the power station. Using electric heating in your house means throwing away about two thirds of the heat created by burning gas in the power station.

Now contrast what would happen if, instead of burning gas at the power station, you were to burn the same gas in your house in a reasonably efficient gas heater. 80 to 90 per cent of the heat would remain in your house (the rest goes up the chimney). Contrast that with the 30 to 40 per cent of the heat from the power station furnace that makes its way into your house via an electric heater. Burning gas in your house is two to three times more efficient than burning it at a central power station.

If you are really concerned with saving the planet by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, heat your house with gas rather than electricity.

 

The climate change religion

After a gap of a year and a half in which too many other things claimed my attention, I am back again.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which recently struck the southern US, have been much in the news, and as usual the media and their talking heads have assured us that these are undeniable manifestations of climate change. Yet the fact that prior to this there has been a twelve-year hiatus in which no significant hurricanes made landfall on the US – the longest such hiatus in recorded history – is rarely mentioned, and never in the context of climate change. Benign weather occurrences are apparently just happenstance, whereas non-benign occurrences are the result of man-made climate change.

The logical inconsistency in this viewpoint never seems to strike most people. If climate is changing, then unless one assumes that our present climate is optimal, a kind of Garden of Eden climate as it were, any climate change is just as likely to bring benign effects as malign effects. To assume that all changes will be malign is not so much a scientific theory as a religious belief. The Gods are angry at us! But if you try to convince most people of this, you will find yourself fighting an uphill battle. Climate change has ceased to be a science (not that it ever really was), and has become a religion masquerading as a science. Science can be argued, religion cannot.

One of my first posts, entitled Just give me the facts, looked at climate change and the reasons it has become closer to a religious belief than a science. But not only has climate change become a religion, it has become an established religion. Established religions, i.e. religions promulgated and supported by the establishment, exist mainly to ensure that the elites controlling the centres of power retain that control. The Christian Church in the Middle Ages was an established religion, as was communism under Stalin (established religions don’t have to be about God).

Established religions have a number of similar characteristics. To begin with, because vast resources are poured into spreading their beliefs, you can expect blind faith on the part of most people exposed to them. If the Church in the Middle Ages said that a horrific Hell awaited anyone who didn’t do exactly as their priests required of them, then that’s what most people believed. If Stalin’s communists said their system would lead to paradise on Earth, that’s what most people believed, at least until the contrary evidence became overwhelming. And if the climate change priesthood says that continued use of fossil fuels will lead to catastrophic global warming, that’s what most people will believe.

Another characteristic of established religions is that they deal very harshly with dissent. Anyone who questioned the teachings of the Church in the Middle Ages was labelled a heretic and burnt at the stake. Anyone questioning communism under Stalin could expect imprisonment or a bullet in the head. And as we know all too well, anyone questioning the dogma of climate change today can expect no mercy. At the least they will be castigated in the mainstream media and made to feel as if they are unclean outcasts.

Yet another characteristic of an established religion is that there is an extensive priestly class who control it, are rewarded very well by it, and have a vested interest in maintaining its beliefs. The priests and monks who ran the Church in the Middle Ages were among the best fed and best housed people of the age. The bureaucrats and uniforms who ran Stalin’s Russia were the aristocracy of that unhappy land. And of course climate change has its own priestly class of bureaucrats building little (and not so little) empires, NGOs awash in money, academics with huge research budgets, and an enormously lucrative wind and solar energy industry that would probably never have seen the light of day had the terms global warming and climate change never entered our consciousness.

Finally, a common feature of all established religions is that their real purpose is social control. The Church in the Middle Ages sent out a simple message: your place on earth is set by God, so remain in your place and do as you’re told or you will burn in Hell. The king was king by divine right, and any attempt to deny his wishes was tantamount to blasphemy.

Communism was pretty good at social control, too. Its central tenet ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’ translates more or less to ‘do as you’re told, and we’ll decide how much you get’.

And so to the climate change religion. We are told by its priesthood that unless we stop producing carbon dioxide the whole world will warm up and we will be inflicted with a Pandora’s box of climate disasters oddly reminiscent of the promises of Hell in the Middle Ages. The fact that the world has not seen any warming for the last twenty years or so doesn’t seem to worry them, nor the fact that in past geological ages the world was much warmer than it is now. After all, nobody said religions had to be logical. Nonetheless, as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said recently,

This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.

In other words, the object is to destroy capitalism and presumably introduce a centrally-planned, Marxist style of world government. This is the essence of social control, in a nutshell.

Climate change is therefore on a par with any other established religion.

One other fundamental characteristic of all religions is that they are necessarily a matter of belief. If something is self-evident, you don’t need to believe in it, it just is. Gravity is not a matter of belief, it is self-evident from the moment you get out of bed. Belief is only necessary for things that are not self-evident. But the nature of the human psyche is such that once a belief has taken hold of the population at large, it is very difficult to shake it off. It is almost impossible to do so by appealing to logic or to anything factual. The only way to do it is by providing a shock to the system which shows that belief to be unnecessary or irrelevant.

An example of this occurred during the end of the Middle Ages in England, when Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic church. There were a couple of reasons for this. The first was that, after more than twenty years of marriage, Henry had no male heir, and he knew from past history that if he died without one the country would very likely be plunged into civil war as the various barons fought for the crown. (As it happened, England had evolved to the point where it was prepared to accept a female monarch, but Henry could not have known this at the time.) He therefore wanted to divorce his wife and take a new one, hopefully to present him with a male heir. However, he needed dispensation from the Pope to do this, and since his wife was a close relative of the King of Spain, who strongly influenced the papacy at that time, Henry’s chance of getting a divorce was next to nil.

The second reason was that the Church had grown so rich and powerful that it threatened Henry’s temporal power. The Church had for several hundred years been running what amounted to a celestial protection racket. According to Catholic doctrine, when you died you would normally spend a prolonged period in an unpleasant state called Purgatory, although the scriptural justification for this is somewhat tenuous. (Purgatory is part of Catholic doctrine to this day, but has been rejected by Protestants.) However, and this had very little scriptural basis, your stay in Purgatory could be drastically reduced by prayers from monks and priests on your behalf after your death. Such prayers were usually on a no pay, no play basis, so that only the wealthy could have their time in Purgatory reduced. A common method of payment was to bequeath land to the Church, and this method of land acquisition had worked so well that, by the time Henry took the throne, the Church owned one sixth of all the land in England, in addition to all the other wealth obtained by this means. Moreover, since donated land tended to be of good quality (the priesthood would have been unlikely to accept anything else), the Church probably owned somewhere around one third of all the arable land in England.

In addition to land ownership and other wealth, the Church had its own legal system, its own courts and its own civil service, and was effectively a state within a state. Since the Church took its orders from Rome, the power of the monarchy in England was being steadily eroded.

Henry VIII solved both problems in a simple manner by breaking away from Rome and declaring himself the head of the Church in England. (Contrary to an often-expressed belief, Henry did not convert the Church to Protestantism. The Church under Henry was Catholic in format and practice, just not Roman Catholic. The conversion to Protestantism occurred under later monarchs.)

Following the split with Rome, Henry shuttered most of the monasteries and expropriated their land holdings, which were largely sold to the highest bidder. After some initial confusion, the English people saw that the world hadn’t come to an end, and in fact life was getting better. Starting at this time, England began to grow into the mercantile, empire-building nation it later became. It is doubtful whether this would have occurred without Henry’s drastic action in splitting from Rome.

The split with Rome created a major upheaval in England’s underlying belief system. No longer was the Church supreme in almost every facet of daily life, no longer did it act as the sole gatekeeper to Heaven. It was still powerful as a spiritual guide, but no longer had the stranglehold on people’s lives that it had had previously. The belief in a single, universal Church headed by the Pope with ultimate control over people’s lives had been shown to be unnecessary, and had been discarded. England had finally left the Middle Ages and was free to grow.

As was to be expected, growth tended to be somewhat erratic with a few road bumps along the way. Henry’s daughter Mary tried, brutally but unsuccessfully, to reconvert England back to Rome after Henry’s death. (The term bloody Mary derives from this period.) And of course monarchs were reluctant to give up the concept of the divine right of kings until the matter was finally settled in the next century with the help of a civil war and the beheading of the then king.

There is a parallel situation in our society today. For several decades we have been under the stranglehold of a belief system that insists that industrial society is fundamentally evil, that we are prodigally depleting our planet’s resources, and that we must renounce our ways and return to a simple pastoral existence. The fact that the return to a pastoral existence would mean the death by starvation of most of the seven billion inhabitants of our planet, since a non-industrial society could not possibly provide the necessary quantities of food, is never mentioned. As I remarked earlier, religions are not required to be logical, or even practical.

Climate change is but one facet of this belief, but it provides a simple mantra that people can easily understand:  fossil fuel consumption is bad. This type of belief, which is somewhat reminiscent of Animal Farm’s four legs good, two legs bad, is not amenable to facts or logic. However, it is amenable to a sudden shock which shows it to be irrelevant and unnecessary. I think President Donald Trump has just provided that shock, or at least the first instalment of it. His declaration that the US will exit the Paris climate agreement has parallels with Henry VIII’s exit from Rome. While there is no Pope of Climate Change, there is no lack of cardinals and archbishops, and the wealth of the Church of Climate Change is legendary.

As with England’s divorce from Rome, we can expect a rocky road ahead as belief in the climate change religion is finally discarded. The priesthood of this religion has little incentive to ride off quietly into the sunset. Yet we might take note of Henry VIII’s policy when he split from Rome. The Church was still immensely wealthy and had the resources to mount a massive resistance to Henry’s policy, so Henry drew its fangs by his dissolution of the monasteries, thereby confiscating much of its wealth.

Much of the wealth of the climate change religion derives from the renewable energy industry. Some three trillion dollars has been poured into this industry worldwide since the year 2000, and even greater amounts are planned for the next two or three decades. Massive financial returns are being generated from it by the simple expedient of mandating privileged access to transmission grids; whenever the wind blows or the sun shines, utilities are generally required to accept the power thus generated, regardless of whether less costly power is available from other sources. A very simple solution to this problem, in the mold of Henry VIII, would be to give transmission grid authorities the right to accept power from the lowest cost source at any time. Since coal- or gas-fired plants can typically sell power in the region of six to eight cents per kilowatt-hour, let wind and solar compete on this basis, without any subsidies. If they can, all well and good. If not, let them go bankrupt.

England is littered with the remains of medieval monasteries which became economically non-viable when their lands were taken away. Perhaps in years to come we shall see the land littered with wind and solar plants that fell into disuse when their subsidies were taken away.

 

 

Cultural Genocide

We hear a great deal nowadays about third-world conditions on our Native reserves in Canada, and how, for example, there is no incentive for the inhabitants to repair their houses because they don’t own them. We hear that there are no jobs for them, and their teenage children are suicidal. Yet whenever anyone suggests they leave their remote reserves and join the rest of us where there are jobs and decent housing, we are accused of advocating cultural genocide. But haven’t we been down this path before?

About three thousand years ago my remote ancestors were peacefully living in an unspoilt landscape in Britain, doubtless in a culturally sensitive, gender neutral, eco-friendly manner. Suddenly, without warning they were brutally invaded by a bunch of red-headed yahoos from central Europe called Celts. They took our land, they raped our women, they even forced their language upon us. It was cultural genocide in its most blatant form.

We endured this colonial oppression for a thousand years, and then were subjected to invasion from a fascist military empire based in Rome. The Romans took our land, they raped our women, and once again they forced their language upon us. It was cultural genocide all over again. For nearly five hundred years we suffered under this military occupation until the Romans got tired of it and left. But no sooner had they left when a horde of thugs from Northern Europe calling themselves Angles and Saxons descended upon us. Once more they took our land, they raped our women, they forced their language upon us, and all in all, they had themselves an orgy of cultural genocide.

We were just getting used to the Anglo-Saxon invaders when a swarm of homicidal Scandinavian maniacs called Vikings descended upon us. Using the, by now standard procedure, they took our land our women, our language, and generally went the whole hog with the cultural genocide thing.

Meanwhile, their Vikings cousins had been sailing their longboats up the River Seine from the English Channel all the way to Paris, where they enjoyed themselves sacking the city. In the year 911, the French King, Charles the Simple, made a treaty with the Vikings whereby, in return for leaving Paris alone, the Vikings got all the land around the lower Seine (with a name like Charles the Simple, what did you expect?). They called this the Northmen’s Land, or as we call it today, Normandy. In less than a generation the Norman Vikings changed from seafarers to horsemen.

Fast forward one-and-a-half centuries, when the Norman leader of the day, one William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, decided to invade Britain. Perhaps he felt he had a claim to the English throne, but more likely he was just a bloody-minded adventurer who was happy to grab what he could, when he could. Whatever, in 1066 the Normans, descendants of Vikings, invaded us. Guess what. They took our land, they raped our women, they forced their language (French, by now) upon us, and generally had a good time with the cultural genocide thing.

My people, those of us that are left by now, have been brutally oppressed by a series of colonial invaders over a period of two thousand years. I demand a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or rather a whole series of them, whose purpose will be to extract apologies, and fat cheques, from the Celts, the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans!

Hang on a moment – didn’t we do rather well for ourselves in the centuries after the last invasion? Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this. Instead of dwelling on our misfortunes and asking for sympathy, we picked ourselves up and got on with it. Could the same principle be applied to our First Nations?

The term cultural genocide is meant to elicit a sympathetic response from us, with its obvious reference to actual genocide and mass slaughter. But all it means is that you end up living your life somewhat differently than you did before – no dead bodies necessary. The phrase is overused. Most of us live our lives somewhat differently than our grandparents did – is this cultural genocide? If you emigrate to Canada from a country where neither English nor French is spoken, in a generation or two you will probably have lost your original language, together with your ethnic cultural practices such as female circumcision, or whatever it was you did over there. Is this cultural genocide?

Life changes. The world changes. If you insist on living as you think your ancestors lived (apart from having snowmobiles and cell phones), then you are doomed to live in poverty at the edges of society. If this is what you want, then so be it, but don’t expect much sympathy from the rest of us. However, I suspect that many of you living on your reserves with no hope of a good job, or of half-decent housing, or any of the amenities of life that the rest of us take for granted, would really like to join us. Try it, you might like it.

Tax and Spend

First World countries are generally far wealthier than they were fifty years ago, and taxation levels are generally higher than what they were then. The amount of revenue flowing in to governments, even allowing for inflation, is therefore much greater than it was fifty years ago. And yet, governments seem to be perennially short of money. Why?

The obvious answer is that governments spend, or would like to spend, more money than they take in. The real questions are what do they spend it on, and why do they spend it?

First World governments, by and large, spend the bulk of their money on social programs. There are two reasons for this. First, governments may see a pressing social need and step in to fulfil that need. Second, governments may cynically use taxes to bribe the electorate to vote for them, disguised as a new social program. Very often the two are combined. Politicians desperate for either election or re-election will have no difficulty convincing themselves that the latest scheme they have cooked up really does fulfil a crying social need, and will conveniently forget that world would go on just as well if their scheme were stillborn.

The problem with social programs is that while they are easy to institute in the first place, they so quickly become part of the fabric of life that removing or reducing them causes howls of outrage. Let’s suppose the government sets up a program to deliver a cup of coffee to everyone in bed before they get up in the morning. A vast, nationwide network of coffee preparers and coffee deliverers would be set up, together with their associated purchasing, transport, quality assurance, training, and management teams (lots of the latter, of course), all at full union rates and civil service hours. When the program becomes financially unsupportable, as inevitably it must, and the government of the day announces its demise, the mainstream media and social media forums would join in a concerted outburst of anguish and breast-beating, and would inform us that the coffee-in-bed program is the very essence of Americanism/Canadianism/fill-in-as-appropriate-ism, and tampering with it would lead to bloodshed in the streets.

A program of this nature may win votes for the government in an election, but only on a one-time basis. Once instituted its existence is quickly taken for granted. Next time around the government or government-in-waiting  needs a new program, but of course the old ones cannot be touched. And you wonder why governments are perennially short of money?

When considering programs of this nature, we need to ask ourselves what is the proper function of government. The answer to this is that governments should do those things, and only those things, which we as individuals cannot reasonably do for ourselves, or the private sector cannot do for us. All else is mere vote-buying. Defence, foreign affairs, and policing are areas for which the government should reasonably have full responsibility. At the other end of the spectrum, getting everyone a cup of coffee in the morning is not something that governments should be doing. But in between are large grey areas. Should governments be providing daycare for young children, for example?

The argument for government-provided daycare is that mothers of young children may need or want to go out to work, and that private daycare, for which the parents will necessarily pay the full cost, may be too expensive for them. Far better for the government to provide daycare at a nominal cost, while the full cost will be paid from tax revenues. In effect, the cost of daycare will be spread over all taxpayers rather than being paid solely by those who make use of it.

The problem with this is one of efficiency. Any program run by the public sector has no need to be cost efficient, because it has no competition. Costs can be guaranteed to go up year after year as unions press for never-ending wage increases, and as more and more supernumerary staff are added: supervisors, area managers, regional managers, employment equity officers, dispute resolution staff – you name it, sooner or later they will be there. Programs like this add on nebulous functions like fungi spreading underground. And why not? Cost efficiency is a null term in the public sector. Private sector daycares, meanwhile, must keep overheads down or go out of business.

If we as a society consider that we need to provide financial support to the parents of young children – if – then a far more cost efficient method would be to give the money directly to the parents. Direct cash  ‘baby bonus’ payments to parents of young children could be used to send the children to a private daycare, or might provide enough additional funding to enable the mother to stay home with her children.

Of course, the usual objections will be raised that parents would spend their baby bonuses on beer and popcorn. Yes, this might happen in a few cases (although much less frequently than the patronising mandarins of the liberal left assume) but this would represent a minor inefficiency, compared to the gross inefficiency of a government-run daycare system.

However, this does not touch on the central question of whether governments should involve themselves in the entire area of daycare, whether as a direct provider or by some indirect means such as a baby bonus. We need a framework in which such questions can be discussed and decided, rather than relying on the whims of politicians.

If taxpayers’ money is to be spent on a new social program, then there must be a clearly stated set of objectives for that program to achieve, other than an abundance of happy voters in the next election. In the case of daycare/baby bonus, the reasons might be thus:

  1. To encourage the participation of women in the labour force;
  2. To encourage women to have more children.

The second objective arises because as societies become richer, children change from being economic assets to economic drains. In a poor country, the more children you have, the more potential wage earners there will be in your family, whereas in a rich country the more children you have, the greater your outlay on clothes, sports equipment, computers and so on. In most First World countries today the birth rate is below the replacement rate, and while this may gladden the hearts of environmentalists, it will become a major cause for concern as the number of elderly persons receiving state pensions and medical services eventually exceeds the number of wage earning tax payers who support them.

The tax and spend philosophy embraced by many politicians assumes that there is a bottomless well of taxpayers from which endless funding can be withdrawn. Demographics would suggest otherwise. Tax and spend inevitably results in governments racking up vast amounts of debt which will be left to future generations to pay down. The problem is that those future generations  will almost certainly be smaller than ours, with a correspondingly smaller capability to deal with that debt.

Be prepared to be cursed by your descendants.

 

Ban DHMO!

I want to bring your attention to a dangerous chemical present in our environment. Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) was used extensively by the US in Vietnam, and the soil in many parts of Vietnam still has heavy concentrations of it. Although little publicity has been given to it, many US military bases keep large stocks of this chemical on hand and have underground distribution systems for it. DHMO is used in both nuclear arms factories and chemical weapons plants.

DHMO is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and exposure to it kills thousands of people every year. Prolonged exposure to its solid form can cause severe tissue damage, while exposure to the gaseous form can cause severe burns. DHMO has been used as a riot control agent in some parts of the world.

DHMO is a major component of acid rain, and contributes to global warming via the greenhouse effect. It has been found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in North America today, and is frequently found in excised tumours of terminal cancer patients. But the occurrence of this deadly chemical nowadays is global, and it has even been found in Antarctic ice. Much of our food supply is contaminated by DHMO. Items found in the produce section of your local supermarket frequently contain traces of it.

Although DHMO can have severe environmental effects, industrial companies routinely dump it into rivers and lakes. The impact on wildlife from environmental DHMO can be extreme, and its presence often makes otherwise fertile farmland unusable.

Have I scared you yet? Don’t worry, the chemical formula for dihydrogen monoxide is H20, otherwise known as water. Dihydrogen  monoxide is just the formal chemical name for water. Read what I’ve written again, but this time substitute the word water for DHMO, and you’ll find that  everything I’ve said is perfectly true, just pitched to sound scary. I’ve put in a lot of phrases to which most people will react negatively, such as nuclear arms factories and chemical weapons plants. Do they use water in these places? Sure they do – in the washrooms. Did the US use it in Vietnam? Well, they made coffee and took showers while they were there.

It isn’t difficult to write scary stuff like this and, unless you have the technical background to see through it, it can be difficult dismissing it for the nonsense it really is. The reason I’ve written it here is because governments and other organizations often use scare stories like this. If you manage to scare people, they are likely to run to you for help and agree to any measures you put forward.

Climate change is a good example of this. Unless we reduce our carbon dioxide output the world is going to heat up uncontrollably, there will be mighty tempests and scorching deserts, mass extinctions of wildlife, wars, famines and general assorted disasters. Do as your wise and noble government tells you, and with their inspired leadership and guidance we might all just survive, albeit with much higher taxes. Of course you mustn’t question any of these predictions, in case the whole facade falls down, so anyone who does so will be called a climate change denier and cast into outer darkness.

The hockey stick graph that appeared in the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was pivotal to this scaremongering. Hockey stick graphThis graph purported to show that global temperatures were constant for a thousand years until the twentieth century, when there was a dramatic increase. The most charitable thing we can say about this graph is that it was generated using questionable statistical methods on a cherry-picked set of data. Despite the fact that it was completely at odds with a vast mass of historical data, and was even belied by data published in the first IPCC report, shown below for comparison, it suddenly became the focus of world-wide alarm on global warming. School classrooms had simplified copies of the hockey stick graph pinned up on their walls and children were taught that our industrial civilization was destroying the world.1000 year climate changeThis scaremongering didn’t happen spontaneously. It happened because influential people decided to use the hockey stick graph as a climate change scare story. Some people will support such actions, saying that they are for a good cause, and surely there is no harm done if the result is that we focus even more on tackling climate change. But this is a circular argument. What these people are saying is that they know that man-made climate change is a threat to the world (how they know is never stated – divine revelation?), so therefore any exaggerations and untruths that are promulgated by the-powers-that-be are justified. And of course the fact that more and more people then become worried about climate change as a result is justification for making even wilder exaggerations to force greater efforts upon us …

To quote Björn Lomborg,  This argument is astonishingly wrong. Such exaggerations do plenty of harm. Worrying excessively about global warming means that we worry less about other things, where we could do so much more good. We focus, for example, on global warming’s impact on malaria – which will be to put slightly more people at risk in 100 years – instead of tackling the half a billion people suffering from malaria today with prevention and treatment policies that are much cheaper and dramatically more effective than carbon reduction would be. … But the worst cost of exaggeration, I believe, is the unnecessary alarm that it causes – particularly among children. Recently, I discussed climate change with a group of Danish teenagers. One of them worried that global warming would cause the planet to “explode” – and all the others had similar fears.

Putting fears about exploding planets to one side, even the fears about malaria caused by global warming are unfounded. They are just another scare story. Malaria is not a tropical disease, it is a poverty disease. Mosquitos breed in swamps and wetlands, and once these are drained the mosquito population largely disappears. Malaria was endemic in Britain in Shakespeare’s time, except it was called ague in those days. Shakespeare mentions it often – This is some monster of the isle with four legs, who hath got, as I take it, an ague, The Tempest, Act II Scene 2.

One of the worst outbreaks of malaria ever recorded occurred in Russia during its civil war in the early 1920’s. Archangel, just south of the Arctic circle, was particularly badly hit, which does rather call into question the ‘tropical disease’ theory of malaria.

Scaremongering is a major tool of governments and many environmental NGOs. The next time your friendly neighbourhood government tells you that the world is going to come to a nasty end unless we … (fill in the blank, but don’t forget it always includes more taxes and regulations), just say to yourself dihydrogen monoxide!

Yes Minister

The US has had the same President for nearly eight years. What has he achieved that any other run-of-the-mill President might just as well have achieved? What difference has he made?

Canada has just elected a flamboyant new Prime Minister. What are the odds that Canada will be significantly different at the end of his time in office?

What both countries have in common is the fact that everything their politicians want to achieve must be implemented by, and indeed filtered through, entrenched bureaucracies. Bureaucracies have their own imperatives, their own agendas, and they possess a massive inertia which makes it difficult for any politician to alter their course.

Bureaucracies are best thought of as living organisms. Like any other organism, they exist for their own sake, and their driving imperatives are self-preservation and growth.

Civil service bureaucracies rarely attract entrepreneurial types, but rather people for whom security is a primary consideration. Some years ago, I had a young man working for me in the private sector who left for a lower-paid civil service job because, as he said, they offered a better pension scheme. This, at age 25. The thought of the diminishment or dissolution of their department, resulting in them having to find another means of earning a living, fills them with a numb horror. They know of no other life, cannot conceive of working for another organization. The thought of striking out on their own would occur to very few of them. A threat to their jobs is an existential threat.

Rising through the levels of a civil service bureaucracy  to a senior rank will not provide a path to wealth, except in very corrupt societies, but merely a comfortable life followed by a guaranteed pension. What it will provide, however, is power, or at least the illusion of power. Yours is the hand that crafts the regulations that every citizen must follow or face sanctions, yours is the hand that disposes of large swaths of the taxpayers’ money, yours is the voice that whispers in the shadows to politicians. Unfortunately, the power goes with the job, and is not owned by you personally. Being a senior civil servant is rather like being a Catholic priest. You can tell everyone how to organize their sex lives, you just can’t have one yourself.

Bureaucracies as entities which seem to exist for no particular reason are nothing new. Charles Dickens parodied (or perhaps only slightly exaggerated) them with his Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit, first published in 1855. While its function was never quite made clear to the reader, the Circumlocution Office was intended to represent the British Treasury Department in real life, which even at that time was a byword for poor organization. At one point in the book, the Minister responsible for the Circumlocution Office justifies its activities to Parliament in terms of the number of memoranda it produced in the previous year, rather than any actions it might have taken for the benefit of the nation.

The 1980’s BBC series Yes Minister offered a humorous but probably all-too-true picture of how a political leader can be subverted by a bureaucracy anxious to maintain the status quo. In one particularly telling scene, senior bureaucrats in the (fictitious) Department of Administrative Affairs are discussing the role of their Minister. It is forcibly impressed on the more junior and idealistic members of the Department that, in the eyes of the senior bureaucrats, the Minister’s role has nothing to do with policy or indeed guiding the Department in any way. His role is seen simply as their breadwinner at the Cabinet table, ensuring as large an appropriation as possible for the coming financial year.

 *  *  *  *

Getting things done in a dictatorship is not usually a problem. The Dictator gives orders, and if those orders are not carried out promptly, someone gets shot. The rest of the underlings very quickly get the message and start falling over themselves to carry out the boss’s orders. In democracies, however, things are a little different. Any decisions made by a President or Prime Minister rely on a civil service bureaucracy to implement them, and if the bureaucracy doesn’t like those decisions, it has a whole range of ways to subvert them, from foot-dragging to creative misunderstanding. It takes a very forceful and persistent leader to get things done in such circumstances.

In the US, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) was implemented with all the savoir-faire and élan of a hippopotamus trying to roller-skate. Surely in this day and age it could have been done better. One has to wonder whether it was deliberately sabotaged by a bureaucracy that liked things just as they were and had no wish for change.

Canada has recently seen this happen. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was thrown out in the recent election, and one of the contributory factors was that the civil service bureaucracy feared and loathed him. Harper tried hard to get the bureaucracy to do things his way, and the bureaucracy rebelled.

In place of Stephen Harper, Canada has elected Justin Trudeau, who is a public relations dream. He is charismatic and photogenic. He is largely adored by the younger generation because he has the same priorities as they do, such as legalizing marijuana. He is highly visible, never missing a photo opportunity.

So when does he find time to deal with the mundane details of running the country?

The short answer is that he probably doesn’t. Unlike the previous incumbent, Stephen Harper, who actually tried to run the country, and consequently incurred the whole-hearted enmity of the civil service, Trudeau floats on a cloud of charisma and leaves such uninteresting details as trade policy and tax reform to the bureaucracy, which is just how they like things to be.

Bureaucracies, by and large, prefer the status quo. Their ideal for the future is that it should not be a great deal different from the present. On this basis we can expect that Canada will remain in an administrative time-warp for the remainder of Trudeau’s term of office. Although no doubt various bold new measures will be proposed by the Trudeau government, you can expect to see them stifled, smothered and generally emasculated as they filter through the bureaucracy. I predict that not much of any significance will be achieved by Trudeau’s government.

Help, help, the Arctic is melting!

In a previous post I talked about the desirability, nay the necessity, of ascertaining the facts, as opposed to regurgitating the current politically correct viewpoint. So let’s do this with regard to the melting of Arctic ice.

It is easily verifiable that the extent of ice cover in the Arctic is less than it was twenty years ago. No argument on that point. The immediate knee-jerk response of the climate change lobby is that this is entirely due to human activity, and in particular the combustion of fossil fuels.

Perhaps. But the intelligent response would be to ask “has this ever happened before? Is the present melting a unique phenomenon, or is it something that happens as a result of a natural climatic cycle? Will the Arctic freeze up again, regardless of what the human race does?”

To begin with, we know that the same concerns about Arctic warming were raised over ninety years ago. In November 1922 the U.S Monthly Weather Review, a prestigious journal published by the American Meteorological Society, contained a report from the US Consul in Bergen, Norway, saying “The Arctic seems to be warming up. Reports from fisherman, seal hunters and explorers who sail the seas about Spitzbergen and the eastern Arctic, all point to a radical change in climatic conditions, and hitherto unheard-of high temperatures in that part of the earth’s surface.

The article goes on to say “Ice conditions were exceptional. In fact so little ice has never before been noted. … Many old landmarks are so changed as to be unrecognizable. … At many points where glaciers formerly extended far into the sea they have entirely disappeared.

It would appear that Arctic melting is not a new or unprecedented phenomenon, since it was remarked upon nearly a century ago. Furthermore, in order for us to be remarking on Arctic melting today, there must have been a freeze-up between then and now. (Since melting occurred in the 1920’s, we would hardly be remarking on it today as a new phenomenon if there had not been a freeze-up since then.) This seems to indicate that Arctic melting comes and goes.

One result of Arctic melting is that the maritime route across the Arctic Ocean linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, known as the Northwest Passage, may become navigable. Will this happen?

The answer to this question is, yes it probably will, because it’s happened before. Some seventy years ago the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St Roch sailed the Northwest Passage both ways. In 1940-1942 she sailed across the Arctic ocean west to east, and in 1944 made the east to west return trip. During the period 1944-1948 she again patrolled Arctic waters.

The St Roch was not a 30,000 ton nuclear-powered ice breaker, but was instead a 300 ton wooden schooner. Granted, she was a tough little boat designed for Arctic conditions, but she had no ice-breaking capability, so there must have been open water for her all the way. However, nobody took much notice at the time because this happened during World War II when people had other things on their minds.

Were these open water conditions exceptional? Going forward about fifteen years, the US submarine Skate navigated underwater in the Arctic Ocean in August 1958. It made numerous surfacings including one at the North Pole in clear water. While plenty of ice was visible, submarine had surfaced in open water, which seems to indicate that the ice cover was somewhat patchy at that time.

Later on, in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, the Arctic froze up again. The current generation of senior Arctic scientists all began their careers in this time frame, so their personal experience has always been that the Arctic is an unbroken expanse of ice. Then, starting sometime in the 1990’s, the Arctic began unfreezing. Ice cover, particularly with satellite imagery to record it, visibly decreased over a period of ten to twenty years. Yikes, they said, this is unprecedented (at least it’s never happened in our experience) – it must be due to global warming.

Even the most dedicated global warming proponents generally concede that there would have been very little man-made global warming in the 1920’s, so it’s difficult to ascribe the documented Arctic warm-up at that time to human causes. Furthermore, the period when the Arctic froze up again, beginning about 1960, was just when man-made release of carbon dioxide really got into its stride. Having the Arctic melting when there isn’t much CO2 being produced, then freezing again when there is doesn’t fit too well with global warming theory.

Another problem with the global warming theory is that while Arctic ice cover at the North Pole has been decreasing, Antarctic ice cover at the South Pole has been increasing. In fact, it has never been so high since satellite measurements began in 1979.

So here is an alternative theory. Both Arctic and Antarctic ice come and go for their own good reasons in a multi-decadal freeze/thaw cycle, regardless of human activity. I’m not going to speculate as to what causes this freeze/thaw cycle, merely to say that the observed facts seem to support its existence.

Does this fit with what we know of other historical events? We know that Arctic melting was noticeable in 1922 and occurred again in the early 1990’s, so let’s assume the freeze/thaw cycle is 70 years in extent, from warm peak to warm peak. Since 1944 seemed to be about the middle of the period when the Arctic Ocean was navigable, let’s assume this was a warm peak in the cycle, so the previous cold peak would have occurred half a cycle (35 years) earlier, which would have placed it around 1909. There would then have been another cold peak 70 years earlier than this, in 1839. We also know that the Franklin expedition, which set out in 1845 to discover the Northwest Passage, came to grief because its ships became locked in the ice. If our assumptions are correct, the expedition would have taken place shortly after the 1839 cold peak when the ice was at its maximum extent, so it is not surprising that the ships became icebound.

I must admit that the math is rather shaky, because of the uncertainties in the actual length of the freeze/thaw cycle and the dates of the warm and cold peaks, so I do not offer this as proof of any kind. I merely say that it seems to fit the hypothesis of a freeze/thaw cycle approximately 70 years in extent.

On this basis, incidentally, the most recent warm peak would have been in 2014, in which case we can expect freezing, and hence increased ice cover, to become noticeable 10 to 15 years from now, say in the latter half of the 2020’s. Anyone intending to invest large amounts of capital in Northwest Passage shipping should take note.

So these are the facts. If your climate change dogma requires you to believe that the current Arctic warming is an unprecedented event caused by fossil fuel consumption, then do so, but be aware that the facts do not altogether support you.

Just give me the facts

There comes a time in your life when you look at what seems to occupy the thoughts and passions of your fellow beings, and you ask “why?” Why do people do the things they do, say the things they say, believe the things they believe?

At such times I am reminded of the words of Robert “Stranger in a Strange Land” Heinlein, expressed through his fictional character Lazarus Long:

What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell”, avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future, facts are your single clue. Get the facts!

 Climate change seems to be occupying the thoughts and passions of my fellow beings at this time. But what are the facts? Disregard the politically correct thing to say, forget about sententious political leaders telling us the science is settled, what are the facts?

Let’s take an oft-quoted example of climate change. Superstorm Sandy, which devastated New York in 2012, is frequently held up as an example of climate change. This, supposedly unprecedented event, is what we are going to see in the future, only more so. Repent ye, O ye SUV-driving sinners!

But what are the facts? Was Superstorm Sandy unprecedented, or was it just another of those unfortunate meteorological events with which the human race is plagued from time to time, climate change or no climate change?

If you go to Google, or your search engine of choice, and type in List of New York hurricanes, you will find a Wikipedia article listing the hurricanes which have hit the New York area since the 17th century. There are 84 in the list, which may not be exhaustive since the earliest data is probably incomplete. Highly destructive events such as Sandy have occurred in the past roughly twice a century. The last one prior to Sandy was Hurricane Edna in 1954, and prior to that was the so-called Long Island Express of 1938, which resulted in 60 deaths (Sandy’s death toll was 53).

Similarly destructive hurricanes occurred in 1894 and 1821. The 1821 storm appears to have been more violent than Sandy, although exact meteorological records were not available at this time. While fewer deaths were recorded than for Sandy, the population of New York at that time was only a few percent of the present-day population, so it is likely that if the 1821 storm occurred today the death toll would be much greater.

The facts seem to say that Superstorm Sandy was just another meteorological catastrophe that New York experiences from time to time, regardless of any human activity. So why the insistence that it is a harbinger of climate change?

The appropriate question here is cui bono – who profits? To whose advantage is it to claim that any and all unpleasant weather events are the result of our planet’s climate being changed by human activities, and in particular by the consumption of fossil fuels? Let us count the ways.

To begin with, there is the green energy industry. Since the year 2004, more than two trillion dollars has been spent worldwide on green energy, mainly wind and solar. The industry consists not just of companies that manufacture wind turbines and solar panels, but other companies that supply raw materials and components, banks that provide financing, and so on. Furthermore, this two trillion relates only to the power generation side, and does not include money spent on non-fossil fuel alternatives such as electric cars. Now ask yourselves how much of this tsunami of money would have been spent if the terms global warming and climate change had never entered our consciousness. Money talks, and two trillion roars.

Next there are the politicians who inform us with great earnestness that the world is doomed – doomed! – unless we mend our ways, and only by electing them can policies be put in place to save the world. This does make a rather effective campaign slogan: vote for us, or the world is doomed. Encouraging a fervent belief in human-caused climate change is their path to power.

Then there are the academics and civil servants for whom research into climate change and administration of various climate change-related measures have enabled them to create little, and sometimes not so little, empires. For them, climate change means a comfortable sinecure with generous funding and access to lots of perks, such as travel to international conferences. Disavowing climate change would mean being cast out into the cold.

Last but not least are large numbers of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) for whom doom-laden scenarios are central to their money-raising efforts. It’s difficult to raise money from a wide audience when all you have to say is that the lesser spotted piddlewarbler appear to be in decline in Northern California. Telling them that  the world is doomed unless they contribute is much more effective.

Between the green energy industry, politicians looking to their next election, their various acolytes in academia and the public service, and all those ENGOs, we are subject to a constant drumbeat of exhortations about climate change. But why are people so eager to listen? Why are people so ready to believe?

I think the answer is that while we have created a wonderfully affluent world, we have allowed a gaping spiritual void to open up in our lives. At this point I expect most of my readers to roll their eyes upwards and say ‘he’s going all weird on us’, but think about it for a while. Our lives are a mad whirl of consumption, driven by storm winds of advertising. Do you have the latest and greatest smartphone? Get one today! New clothes, new cars, houses, holidays, gadgets – the list is endless. Yet at some point even the most rabid of shoppers will feel a need to ask themselves whether there is anything in life beyond the mere acquisition of material goods.

Whether we admit it or no, we all of us have this need for reassurance of our worth, of our place in the greater scheme of things. I call this a spiritual need, although you can call it by whatever psychobabble term is currently fashionable if you wish. A generation or two ago, peoples’ spiritual needs were fulfilled fairly well by belonging to and attending a church, but most of us don’t do this anymore. Because of this unfulfilled need for reassurance, people today have a far greater propensity than in previous ages to support any cause that is skilfully sold to them.

Climate change, whatever its merits, has been sold to us in a very skilful manner. Yes, it tugs our heartstrings with images of the imminent demise of cuddly little animals, yet it doesn’t seem to require any uncomfortable lifestyle changes on our part. Just sell that gas-guzzling car and buy a fuel-efficient hybrid. (But you were going to do this anyway.) Replace that inefficient old fridge with an up-to-date one (which makes your kitchen look so much better). Put most of your garbage into a recycling box (which takes perhaps an extra five minutes per week). You’re making lots of money, so the fact that taxes are constantly creeping upwards isn’t too noticeable (and if you’re not making lots of money and are being squeezed by rising taxes, the mainstream media isn’t really interested in you, when all is said and done).

Climate change however comes with a good cop/bad cop routine. I’ve just described the good cop part. The bad cop part is that if you disagree with it in any way you will be made to feel as if you were walking through a hospital operating theatre in muddy boots. Terms such as ‘denier’ will be hurled at you, and you will be told that you are jeopardizing your grandchildren’s future. And yet, one has to wonder, if climate change and all its desolate scenarios are so self-evident, why the need to sanction dissenters in this way? Could it be that the high priests of global warming are afraid of dissent?

Fear of dissent is usually a sign that the belief system has shaky foundations. More on this later.