Monthly Archives: September 2017

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.