Monday, February 8, 2010


Re: “A Heated Debate: Why Political Orthodoxy Must Not Silence Scientific Debate” Economist 26-11-09

Finally someone has articulated the attitude that I have taken from the beginning in a way that walks the line between orthodoxy and scepticism that I have tried to find. I am quite uncomfortable with any "truth" that requires intimidation, ostracism, media censure and spin as weapons for its defence. In a fair and open contest of ideas, I believe truth will out. If one needs a justification for tolerance of the unorthodox and the unconventional, one need only recall the impassioned arguments that Carl Sagan, one of my personal heroes, made on behalf Velakovsky. Sagan stated that he found Velakovsky's theory untenable and unfounded, but he found the treatment meted out to Velakovsky by the scientific community even more unacceptable. We know that just as a good government needs a strong opposition to govern well, scientific truth gains more by the errors of iconoclastic challengers than the bleeting cant of its credulous adherents. But in the climate "debate", all sceptics are treated like shills of the oil companies. If that is the case, then Exxon and Shell don't pay their agents very well because I know a number of them in my circle who live on modest budgets. Seldom are AGW advocates subjected to the same test of mercenary motives.

How many desk jockeys in the $7 million a year David Suzuki Foundation make a living on beating the climate change drum? Al Gore's appearance reaped $100,000 for the DSF in one night. David Suzuki, like the leaders of so many mainstream environmental NGOs, fights to maintain and expand his market share in a very competitive market for green guilt money. If you primary goal is fundraising, you seize on the one issue that gains the most traction, just as political parties that fight successful elections seize on one or two themes at most, and hammer away on them. As Dr. Chris Chalquist has documented, the public has a limited tolerance for fear-mongering. They budget a certain mental space for pressing societal concerns, and beyond that, will suffer anxiety fatigue and tune you out. Denial is hardwired into our mentality. We need a large measure of unfounded optimism and apathy to get through the night. There is only a certain amount of concern that can be tapped on a range of environmental issues.

What makes climate change the most attractive horse to hitch our wagon to is that is sexy. Collapsing ice shelves and drowning polar bears excite our attention more than droughts and famines. And once it has achieved momentum, more and more green orgs jump on board because that is the hook to catch potential donor attention. The mere mention of birth control or immigration raises too many hackles, so there is a great temptation to let sleeping dogs lie, and shoot for easier targets. I notice that population groups have succumbed to this recruiting strategy. More and more of their commentary focuses on climate change. I am beginning to wonder, did acid rain, air pollution, hazardous waste, ozone depletion, water pollution, massive deforestation, habitat destruction, poaching or overpopulation cease to matter with the release of the "Inconvenient Truth" pm January 24th, 2006? Did environmental degradation begin with Al Gore’s documentary? Perhaps Obama should follow the precedents of Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII by commissioning the development of a new calendar. Instead of BCE and CE, perhaps we should mark time by BAG (Before Al Gore) and AAG (After Al Gore), with the Year 1 beginning on January 24, 2006. Then, like the Taliban, we should demolish any artifact that reminds people of the old religion and only tolerate shrines built to the new religion, Man-Made Climate Change (originally christened "global warming" until the inconvenient truth of recent global cooling came out). Let's pull down Nelson in Trafalgar Square and erect a Monbiot statue in its place, demolish Graceland and send pilgrams to Gore's mansion in Nashville.

I recall the late novelist Michael Crichton remarking once that it was his policy not to try to talk anyone out of his environmentalist beliefs, because they were essentially religious convictions rather than facts to be argued. In my conflict with Greens, social democrats and the Sierra Club, my experience would tend to confirm Chricton's cynicism. Soft green environmentalism, whose trademark is a refusal to acknowledge population growth as a crucial ingredient of environmental corruption, is all about religion, not science. Soft green environmentalism seems like a perfect reconfiguration of traditional Judeo-Christianity. We are all sinners in the white affluent north, doomed to perish, unless we seek salvation (sustainability), which somehow only involves reducing per capita consumption, and seek penance through cosmetic and trivial lifestyle changes that do nothing to confront the institutional agents of growth or its root causes.

I am not prepared at this point to argue that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax. I suspect that it is real and it is serious. But not serious enough or certain enough to push all other environmental issues off the plate, especially population growth, which is the driving force behind both biodiversity loss and rising CO2 levels (whether you believe that CO2 affects the climate or not). I resent our persistent fixation on AGW. I thought we were in business to raise awareness about the costs of population growth, not the costs of climate change. If we don't, who will?

Tim Murray
November 27/09

No comments: