Something in the air

By , 5 December 2009 9:15 am

I don’t recollect that I have really talked about global warming at any point in these blogs. There have been several reasons for my omission: I have to teach the subject (and it’s not an easy one) and other people have been talking about it so loudly that I haven’t felt the need to say anything. However we are on the verge of the Copenhagen Conference and there are some very interesting things happening which I think merit some discussion.

Right at the start let me say that I hold to what I would say is still the ‘general scientific consensus’ that a) there is some sort of rapid climate change/global warming going on, b) that is almost certainly due to our production of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels and that c) it is a wise and prudent thing to try to cut CO2 emissions. In short, I am a cautious and not uncritical believer in anthropogenic climate change. (And incidentally last month was the wettest November on record in the UK, and one of the warmest too.)

Until about a week ago, I would have said that most of the attendees at the forthcoming Copenhagen conference would have held to that general scientific consensus. But something rather strange and troubling has happened. Someone downloaded many megabytes of e-mails and data from the prestigious Climatic Research Unit of University of East Anglia’s servers (as ever, see Wikipedia for details) and those perusing them have claimed to find evidence of fraud and fabrication of data to support claims of global warming. Within days, the Internet and even the newspapers have been full of allusions of conspiracy from that eclectic group that we might call climate-change deniers. The result is that, at the last minute, it may be hard to get any major decision at Copenhagen.

Let me make some comments here. First of all, I have read what are claimed to be the most revealing e-mails and frankly I am unimpressed by the claims that they demonstrate any fabrication of data. In terms of substance, I see no evidence that any significant claim of the ‘global warming is a fact’ scientists has been undermined, let alone overturned. In terms of style, what I have read sound no worse than the sort of hasty communications that go on between all scientists over publications and theories, particularly those in the hotly contested frontline areas of science. (Heaven help any of us if all our e-mails were ever published!)

Second, the timing of this piece of criminal hacking is very striking. I cannot believe it is an accident. I would love to know how it was done and who funded it. A lot of people have a lot to lose at Copenhagen: not just the big oil companies. I have a niggling suspicion that there will be some new revelation this weekend; just on the edge of the conference itself.

Thirdly, as one or two of the wiser commentators have pointed out, what is particularly striking about this series of e-mails is in fact the absence of any reference to a plot, a conspiracy or even a grand plan to spread the message of global warming to an unsuspecting world. I’m afraid the protagonists appear to be ordinary scientists more concerned with getting their papers published rather than inventing a monstrous lie that will terrify the World.

Finally, the most serious allegation has been that the climate change believers have been guilty of foisting a religious creed on a gullible world. Now here I pause. Indeed, much of the language used by the ‘global warmers’ has been religious in both tone and content. We have been asked to simply believe the men and women in white coats and invited to put our trust in the scientists. In fact, the language has been more than religious, it has been positively eschatological. We have wiId-eyed prophets of doom and their camp followers with their placards and banners. Didn’t I read somewhere that we had just ‘days to save the world?’ Actually, more than one prophet about the state of the future as a result of global warming has ransacked the book of Revelation for metaphors.

Yet what is interesting is the tone and language of the ‘climate change deniers’ is exactly the same. It is the dark counterpart of the affirmers. Here though instead we have talk of a sinister conspiracy, of fraud and manipulation of figures and the twisting of graphs. There are hints in some circles that these men and women are liberals, promulgators of dissolute lifestyles and even dark intimations that they want to undermine the very lifestyle of the Christian West. I don’t think anybody has yet identified the Antichrist among the global warming community but it cannot be long. Perhaps the newly appointed President of Europe (apparently a strong Catholic) may yet be pushed forward as a candidate. (The fact that he is from Brussels is slightly problematic: it’s hard to treat a Belgian Antichrist seriously. But perhaps that’s part of the diabolic disguise.)

Cautiously, I wonder if what is happening is that both pro and anti-climate change parties are scrambling to stand upon the high ground of the hill that Christianity once held but has now sadly vacated in the West. There is a double tragedy here: not only is the Christian voice muted, but in the ensuring silence both parties have sought to acquire the stern and solemn tone of religious truth.

I gather that it may not have been G.K. Chesterton who wrote that ‘once men cease to believe in Christianity, it is not that they believe in nothing it is that they believe in anything’. However I still think that it is true. What we are seeing is a version of this: ‘when men and women cease to believe in Christianity, they will continue to use its language to support whatever else they passionately believe in.’

Have a good week.

4 Responses to “Something in the air”

  1. nebulous says:

    Even if temperatures have been steadily rising for some time now, that isn’t anything new. Look at the Medieval Warm Period, for example–temperatures were much higher than now on average far before our carbon dioxide-producing technology was even invented.

  2. ChrisW says:

    I was going to write something on the Medieval Warm Period but found this on the BBC website which I think is fair. “There have been many periods in Earth history that were warmer than today – for example, the last interglacial (125,000 years ago) or the Pliocene (three million years ago). Those variations were caused by solar forcing, the Earth’s orbital wobbles or continental configurations; but none of those factors is significant today compared with greenhouse warming. Evidence for a Medieval Warm Period outside Europe is patchy at best, and is often not contemporary with the warmth in Europe. As the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) puts it: “The idea of a global or hemispheric Medieval Warm Period that was warmer than today has turned out to be incorrect.” Additionally, although the Arctic was warmer in the 1930s than in the following few decades, it is now warmer still. One recent analysis showed it is warmer now than at any time in the last 2,000 years.”

  3. Catherine Brislee says:

    “Brothers and sisters, the end of the world is coming and it’s all our fault!”

    This afternoon I went to a presentation by a consultant who will be attending the Copenhagen conference. Well OK he didn’t actually use the above words, but that was definitely the message. I have rarely felt so depressed at the end of a meeting. It was very interesting to listen and watch having read this blog (thank you, Chris) because the parallels with Christianity were so obvious once I knew to look for them, the main one being a call for a “change in consciousness”, a deep change of heart which would cause us all to become less greedy and generally better and more responsible people. The speaker is someone I know slightly and he spoke passionately and intelligently and I have no problem with most of what he said. I just don’t think humans can change on their own.

  4. Stephanie says:

    “I don’t think anybody has yet identified the Antichrist among the global warming community but it cannot be long. Perhaps the newly appointed President of Europe (apparently a strong Catholic) may yet be pushed forward as a candidate. (The fact that he is from Brussels is slightly problematic: it’s hard to treat a Belgian Antichrist seriously. But perhaps that’s part of the diabolic disguise.)”
    This part cracked me up. :) You made some very interesting points though.

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