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.