August 29, 2009
The man who doubted Al Gore
To dissent on the man-made global warming ‘consensus’ is seen as evidence of mental deficiency
By Peter Foster
Dealing with acolytes of the Al Gore school of climate change (that is, virtually every government on earth, plus the chattering classes of the entire Western World) has always reminded me of a classic series of illustrations by Australian-born British cartoonist H. M. Bateman.
Mr. Bateman’s “Man Who…” series depicted people falling about, jaws dropping and eyes popping, while the surrounding buildings literally shook as some poor fool made a monumental social gaffe. They included “The Man Who Missed the Ball on the First Tee at St. Andrews,” and “The Man Who Lit His Cigar Before the Royal Toast.”
If one were to think of current candidates for the most disastrous of faux pas, surely none could be greater than “The Man Who Expressed Skepticism About Catastrophic Man-made Global Warming.” Not merely do mouths gape, but eyes roll at any dimwit’s failure to grasp that there is “consensus” on the issue. Indeed, to dissent is seen not merely as evidence of mental deficiency but moral turpitude.
I once attended a dinner party thrown by a corporate executive who — like his guests — was astonished at my apostasy, which was met by the requisite mime show of shock from other guests. The following day he e-mailed me a news item about melting Arctic ice. That, presumably, would put me straight.
Earlier this year I wrote an article for The Walrus magazine on the great Scottish philosopher and father of economics Adam Smith. I made a passing reference to the fact that Smith, as a student of the scientific method, might be skeptical about the notion that any science was “settled.” A letter was subsequently published in which a correspondent replied, somewhat testily: “[W]hat special qualifications does Foster have to assess the validity of climate change theory?... [W]e are being told by people who have spent their whole lives studying climate change that we need to be concerned, and that’s good enough for me.”
I entirely appreciate his point. We rely on authority for the vast majority of what we believe, but global warming theory does not rank as knowledge of the same order as whether Iceland exists or the moon is made of green cheese. My reason for believing in the existence of Iceland is that a conspiracy to conjure it out of geographical thin air is passing unlikely. But anthropogenic global warming is different. Far from being an established fact, it is a hypothesis whose allegedly disastrous consequences will occur sometime in the relatively distant future. It also comes attached to considerable psychic satisfactions and political advantages for its promoters.
It conforms to a broad view — long and fondly promoted by fans of Big Government — that capitalism is essentially short-sighted and greed-driven (just look at the subprime crisis!). This stance is not merely appealing to activist politicians and bureaucrats, it is pure gold for the vast and growing army of radical NGO environmental lobby groups, whose raison d’être — and fundraising — are closely related to the degree to which nature is seen to be “endangered.” It is also appealing to rent seeking businessmen who see the profit potential in the vast array of controls and subsidies.
Nevertheless, most ordinary people reasonably imagine in the face of such a weight of “authority” that the case must be closed. It isn’t. For a start, the weight of authority is based on the political doctoring of studies that are in any case designed to countenance no other conclusion than that man-made carbon dioxide drives the climate. Moreover, the very fact that the theory’s promoters are so reluctant to actually engage in scientific debate (No time to talk. Must act!) is highly suspicious.
However, once you get people believing in “authority,” then you’re pretty much home and dry. Authority relieves us of the anxiety of uncertainty and the pain of thought. If the issue can also be portrayed as “moral” (millions of poor people dying from biblical droughts and floods!) then to question it is not merely cause for rejection but censure. Skeptics must be either crackpots or in the pay of Big Oil or Big Coal.
I recently had what I tried to make a level-headed exchange with somebody who was visibly agitated at my daring to quote science, facts and sources. This person — dredging up material from the conventional noosphere — finally told me that I was like “a holocaust denier,” or somebody who believed in UFOs! Their conviction, like the Walrus correspondent, was based on the fact that “Nobel prize winners” had declared that catastrophic global warming was a fact.
Now it’s certainly true that Al Gore has a Nobel, but it is equally certain that it isn’t for science. The nations of the world are currently involved — ahead of the next giant climate shindig in Copenhagen in December — in rancorous discussions about sharing the economic self-mutilations that are claimed to be needed as part of a successor to the egregiously-failed Kyoto Accord. No issue has more divided the rich and poor, and pitted the West against India and China.
In case you don’t remember, the Nobel that Al Gore shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was for Peace. But mentioning that massive incongruity would probably cause people’s eyes to roll, or maybe even buildings to shake.