We were in the middle of a congenially post lunch conversation at our annual get together of architect buddies, having demolished the designs of local planning and building efforts moving on to Brexit and independence for Scotland. All was going swimmingly well, when we somehow wandered into global warming and climate change and I foolishly confessed to being a sceptic. The faces froze with an unconcealed shock. Suddenly I was not one of them. When people say “ You are, of course, entitled to your point of view …” You know you have the wrong one. I realised that I had touched on something sacred. Something that was not up for discussion. This was a religious issue and what I had said amounted to blasphemy
I was reminded of this when watching the BBC documentary “Climate Change – the facts” which started with David Attenborough speaking from a field somewhere in England and ended with the school strikers in central London and Greta Thunberg. It was difficult to take any of this seriously. The hurricanes, the droughts the wildfires the dying bats and the deforestation are, without a doubt, desperately serious and devastating events, but it was the seismic jump in thinking, the incredible leap of faith that placed all these events as a direct result of human action, that was breath-taking. There was a small admission that not all can be laid at the foot of human activity but the central message was that they did. I wonder if the BBC team actually chose the title to put down the collection of essays of the same name which challenge the accepted view. There was no debate and no quarter given to sceptics. In fact, their intervention was seen as part of the problem. The sceptics have effectively delayed action.
The message was simple: Extreme weather is increasing, It is a result of global warming which is a result of green house gases, the principal one is CO2 which was due to carbon emissions and for which the human species is culpable. From there, the prediction was for more “extreme weather” with tipping points which will trigger “climate collapse”. Now all of that may be true, although the connections were not always clear, Among the “facts” there was no mention of the sun which has probably the greatest influence on the changes in climate, nor clouds, their cooling effect during the day and milding effect during the night. The forests were described as soaking up the carbon without any mention of the other side.- how the trees actually need CO2 to grow and green the planet. There was no acknowledgement that the predictive models were anything other than fully trustworthy or that past predictions were wrong, some spectacularly so.
I happen to think that the destruction of the planet is a very serious issue and that our careless exploitation of resources is morally corrupt. I believe that humankind has a heavy responsibility to care for the natural world of which we are an intrinsic part. And I know we are not doing that. I take it very seriously and have done so for decades. It was a subject we agonised over as students in the 60’s and early 70’s when pollution was how it was presented. Paul Ehrlih’s “The Population Bomb” was a text that really scared us. What I can’t take seriously is the para-religious dogma that will not allow any discussion, that simplifies a complex subject into soundbites, that are preached in sermons often by people who have actually no special expertise, no qualification or authority in the subject and it doesn’t help the cause. The fact that the celebrity activists play fast and loose with their own carbon footprints doesn’t help either. It is the classic preacher’s sin of not practising what you preach.
But it was not just the sermon – telling us how bad we are and how we are heading for a cataclysmic disaster- It was the belief that we can find our own salvation, was what troubled me most. It is the unconscious arrogance of the thing that lacks any sense of realism. The repeated mantra “We can save the planet” doesn’t bear any scrutiny. It is not true. We can’t. This misplaced confidence hasn’t eradicated hunger, or poverty or disease or crime. It hasn’t brought us world peace and there is no indication that it ever will. And no, this is not a counsel of despair. It is a counsel of reality and sanity. The truth is we can’t save the planet. We can’t stop storms and hurricanes. We can’t abolish flooding or ban earthquakes. None of these things are in our gift. We can’t tell the sea to be still or the wind to be quiet. There was only one person who could do that and there is only one person who can.
And this gets to the nub of the problem, how can we expect to protect the natural world and make it a place fit for human flourishing, in harmony with the rest of creation, if we ignore the Creator and lock him out of our discussions. The problem is not climate change denial; the problem is God denial.
How well I know that experience of feeling you are the one person in the room who holds a different opinion! I confess from time to time if there is a certain pleasure in being the one at odds with accepted opinion – it can make one feel a little smarter and more interesting.
As for Attenborough, I wonder if you were expecting a little too much from a one hour programme? I imagine the brief was to raise attention to the issue (something that Attenborough is uniquely able to do) rather than to discuss the science in detail, including the views of sceptics. You suggest that some crucial facts were missing from the programme, but it is not as though these are not dealt with regularly in the media and elsewhere for those who wish to know more. Climate change sceptics have a fair representation – a quick search on Amazon reveals lots of popular books written by sceptical authors. And then there is President Trump, being dogmatic in his climate change scepticism while also arguably having the most power to do anything constructive to mitigate its results.
Your penultimate paragraph left me quite confused. Sure, humans have not been entirely successful in totally eradicating poverty or crime – although in many instances both have decreased as a result of human action – but we have been hugely successful in eradicating disease. I don’t see human agency in making things better any challenge to Christian belief. I sense an unjustified fatalism in your approach, which is all the more troubling because if the human ability to affect climate change is at all possible, then to do nothing is not really to threaten our lives or the lives of our children, but to devastate some of the poorest communities on the plant. I don’t know enough about whether the current suffering caused by unprecedented weather events in Mozambique is climate change related, but I am convinced enough to believe that action must be taken.
Thanks for your comments. Interesting, I don’t think I ever feel smart being the odd ball, more lonely
Oh, that is sad… and surprising, as there are a lot of very vocal climate change sceptics writers and speakers out there – and moreover a huge number of people who follow them. Is it that they are not in your immediate milieu? I did not mean to direct the opening comment at you – more I was saying that occasionally being against the mainstream gives me a bit of thrill, and I do think many of the ‘prophets’ you referred to earlier, enjoy a great deal of exposure and privilege being in opposition to apparently mainstream opinions.
Yes I know there are a lot of writers who challenge the line on it and that is good but I was meaning the sense of being isolated among your buddies
You are probably right. It was just a tv programme and it was the BBC ,more for entertainment than anything else with a good dose of disaster porn. Probably not meant to be taken too seriously
I find that profoundly disrespectful to David Attenborough, the producers and the millions that watched.
No I don’t see human agencies instrumental in doing good things a challenge to Christian belief and no idea why you would think that I would. And I am not fatalistic and certainly was not advocating inaction quite the opposite. I thought I made that clear. It was the preaching I was objecting to.
But that is not how it reads! You say only one person can save the planet, but surely if that is your belief then you also believe that ‘one person’ does so at least partially through human agency? Do you really believe that those who advocate reducing the way we abuse the planet’s resources and poison its atmosphere and oceans are ‘arrogant’? Many of those ‘arrogant’ people will also share your faith. There is a false dichotomy in your argument.
No of course not, that us not what I am saying. What seems to me arrogant and a bit foolish is to say “ We can save the planet” We are, I believe, responsible for the care of it, but we don’t have the power to save it.
Fair enough, but I am not sure that is what the programme was saying, was it? I thought the message was that if we don’t take much more significant action soon, it may be too late to avoid the worst of what may happen. That does not seem to me to be any more arrogant than saying we can rid the world of small pox or polio.
I think the real arrogance comes from those who denigrate those who are showing leadership in this issue – calling them alarmist, disaster pornographers, etc. and from those who deliberately misrepresent the findings of 97% of the scientific community.
…poorest communities on the planet…obviously!
I should have learned that that it was foolish to put a toe in the water over such a complex subject. I regret using the term “disaster porn” and being flippant about David Attenborough and the crew. I wasn’t really describing anyone as arrogant merely the phrase “we can save the planet”. I am still sceptic about the dogma and I think the alarmist approach is actually counterproductive. I suppose it is what you hear. You say the message of the programme was “if we don’t take much more significant action soon, it may be too late to avoid the worst of what may happen.” I would have agreed with that, but I didn’t hear the “much more significant” or “may be” or “may happen”. The tone was much more certain. A definite time scale was mentioned 10 (12 or 15?) years before it would be too late and the fact that we have had these warnings before, which have turned out not to be true. doesn’t help a sceptic.
Oh, no, please keep on putting your toe in the water – it keeps me on my toes! I am interested in where your scepticism comes from? I have not read far into the sceptical literature, but the link between much of it and the fossil fuel companies make me sceptical.
Why a sceptic? I am a sceptic about the climate change dogma simply because I sense that it is not actually about science but has all the hallmarks of being politically motivated. I am not sceptical about the thing itself. We may well be facing major and disastrous shifts in the climate systems catastrophe. That could well be true and I think it is something that we should talk about, not ignore and we should certainly act upon. But it is the dogma that will have no debate, allow no questions, give no space for any doubts, that troubles me.
For example, Willie Soon, who is the person most associated with the sun issue you mention above, has received over $1m from fossil fuel companies. In addition, his research papers have been widely discredited. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Soon
Hadn’t heard about Soon. So is research always tainted by the sponsor’s suspected interest?