Thursday, May 24, 2007

Six degrees of sacrifice

When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream in shout. 'Advice' from Robert Heinlein. Advice that's been taken to heart by warmists, who counsel that in their confusion we should all do likewise. "Au contraire!" is the eloquent response from Josie Appleton at Spiked, in reviewing a new warmist tome, pictured right.

Ayn Rand once counselled that rather than examine a folly we would do better to ask what it achieves; in a wide-ranging review examining another earnest warmist tome to hit the marketplace of non-ideas, Appleton suggests something similar: rather than just examining all the scientific and pseudo-scientific heavy breathing, she suggests instead that we do better to look to the cultural follies that generated today's widely disseminated politico-scientific lap dance. Today's global warming headlines, she argues, "owe more to the anxious zeitgeist than scientific findings."
One way of answering [the warmists] would be to examine their science – and perhaps ... we would find rival articles ... that would question whether CO2 emissions would increase temperature as much as predicted, or which highlight feedback cycles that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Then it would be a case of one set of citations against another. This is how the global warming debate generally progresses, with the two sides invoking ‘the science’ rather like divisions of Christians invoking the Bible.
All familiar enough from exchanges here and elsewhere. "But," suggests Appleton, "there is another way to approach this question, which is to look at the political circumstances in which climatic science is produced, a process that also has its own laws and patterns."
It is strange, at a time when the social construction of science is an established idea (Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he describes science’s progress through ‘paradigms’, is on every undergraduate’s reading list) that nobody thinks to look at the social construction of global warming theories. Global warming science is being produced in highly febrile times; and history tells us that the more the political temperature rises, the more science’s view of nature is distorted.
Now, Kuhn did nothing if not sever science from reality, making it the servant of group subjectivism -- highly suggestive of today's scientific group hug -- so in following this suggested approach herself, she reaches some fascinating conclusions. I'm not going to tell you what they all are: read them all yourself, all of them packed into one superb review of what seems to be a very silly book by a loyal apostle of today's worthiness (a chap by the name of Mark Lynas). But I will give you a taster.

There was a time, she says, when climate was assumed to be relatively stable, "that it would adjust to absorb imbalances" (rather like the stability of markets before governments and central banks took over). Then for some cultural reasons that view changed, and in changing the science itself took a more apocalyptic turn -- but, she argues, all the 'end of days' rhetoric is more reflective of the cultural shift than it is of real science.

Fast forward to the early twenty-first century, when scientists decided that the climate system was fragile and subject to dramatic and irreversible shifts... The phrase everybody started to use was ‘tipping point’, meaning the point where the Earth’s system would reach its ‘limit’ and tip over into an irreversible change. (This was particularly the case after the 2004 Hollywood hit, The Day After Tomorrow, which envisaged the onset of a global freeze in a matter of hours.) The question many scientists started asking of nature was ‘what is its tipping point?’. At what point would the Arctic and Antarctic go into irreversible meltdown? At what point would the carbon cycle go into reverse? At what point would this or that ecosystem collapse? When would extreme weather events start to increase?

Scientists started to carry out impact studies, and they started to look at feedback cycles. These are loaded concepts: impact – showing the damaging effect of temperature rise on ecosystems – and feedback – the inbuilt instabilities that could lead to ‘runaway’ change. Nature was viewed as fragile, interconnected, and liable to spin away dramatically beyond our control...

You don’t have to be Thomas Kuhn to read the (mixed) metaphors here. We’re hitting the ‘ecological buffers’ ... ‘fiddling with the earth’s thermostat’. Once feedback starts, ‘the accelerator will be jammed, and there will be nothing we can do to cut the speed of climate change’. ‘[N]o one can say for sure where this tipping point might lie, but it stands to reason that the harder we push the climate, the closer we are likely to get to the edge of this particular cliff.’ Just as in the 1980s asteroid theories felt ‘right’ because of the images scientists carried in their consciousnesses, so now, too, the political climate colours models of nature. We can see how social anxieties – a fear of change, a sense of the fragility of things – guide the questions that scientists ask, and the kinds of theories that ring true...

The scope for climatology to slip into fantasy is heightened by the fact that it is a relatively open and uncertain field... Today’s preoccupation with fragility and collapse means that models take a one-sided view of nature.
In other words, and to summarise, the prevailing cultural and philosophical outlook will frame the questions that the scientists (and the politicians) ask -- and, too, the answers that we hear. We've heard Al Bore preaching that this "crisis" is not about science (and it certainly isn't for him), that it's all about "morality." Now on that score, he's certainly correct. It's a battle between those who favour man's right to live on this earth against those who don't -- those who say that individuals have the right to live for their own sake, and those who say we must all bow our heads in sacrifice to the great goddess Gaia. Like many of today's environmentalists, the author Appleton is reviewing is firmly in the latter camp:
According to Lynas, the battle against global warming will allow us to cure the problem of human hubris, which has been the defining feature of what he calls the ‘Anthropocene’. In the low-carbon society, human beings’ restless desire to improve themselves will be gone. We will live locally, we will be thankful, we will make do. Children would be able to play in the street again; airports would be converted back into forests...
... and one to two billion people will die from a lack of the energy, industry, medicine, food and shelter that are necessary to modern life-- and the rest of us will be boiling up stones to make soup, if, that is, we're even allowed to burn trees to make fire.

Hyperbole? Nope. There are people who would like that to happen: Environmentalists like Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson -- "We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion" he opined a few weeks back to little if any outrage -- or David Graber or Earth First's David Foreman ... or even Prince Philip [see here for the views of all these gentle men]. But I'm convinced that not all environmentalists do want it to happen, but too few of them yet realise the road down which their anti-industrialism and political appeasement is inexorably pushing us. But they need to. And so do we.

"Life beyond consumerism would be a fine thing, but this is life without a pulse," notes Appleton, and she couldn't be more right. This is a life welcomed by the likes of Greenpeace, who reacted to the fairly obvious point made by NZ's Genesis Energy yesterday that if we can't burn coal then our city's lights are going out by saying, essentially, "We don't believe you." But it's true. It's inexorable.No power, no lights, no industry, no airports, no pulse ... and children playing on the motorways, if they don't die in childbirth. Unless that 's the future you're aiming for then "renewables" just ain't gonna cut it -- and they certainly can't cut it today, which is when they're needed if our current energy productions is retarded.

It's been clear enough for a long time that the anti-industrial global warming jihad has been about more than just the science: indeed, as Nicholas Sterns's and Al Bore's almost complete disregard for genuine science has shown, it's barely about the science at all. It truly is about morality. Says the Right Reverend Gore:
'The climate crisis also offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission; the exhilaration of a compelling moral purpose; a shared and unifying cause; the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the restless human need for transcendence; the opportunity to rise.

When we do rise, it will fill our spirits and bind us together. Those who are now suffocating in cynicism and despair will be able to breathe freely. Those who are now suffering from a loss of meaning in their lives will find hope.’
Those are the Bore's emphases, by the way, not mine -- all hail the great Bore! -- and the mission on which he calls us is one just as beloved of political and religious leaders since time immemorial as it has been also of hucksters everywhere. This is not science, it is charlatanism. You don't find "meaning" in a weather forecast or in carefully cropped photos of polar bears. The roots of this view do not lie in science, they lie in religion, specifically in an epistemology of faith, and in the ethic of sacrifice made all-too popular by religion.

"Renounce, renounce, renounce" is the cry ... and if you do unto you much will be given: and to be specific that's penury, sackcloth and ashes for you, and the White House and two presidential terms for Al. (As Ayn Rand also counselled, whenever there's someone demanding sacrifice, there's always someone around who's waiting to pick up the sacrifices: "It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there's someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.")

As Appleton concludes (and I've still barely scratched the surface of what she has to say):
Lynas’ books [and Al Bore's rhetoric] suggest the attraction of the global warming issue has little to do with environmental problems. Instead, global warming appears to provide answers to life’s big questions, offering a new kind of historic mission and a new structure for personal morality.

Only global warming doesn’t really answer any of these big questions - it shuts them down, solving the problem of meaning by abolishing meaning itself. As we look forward to 2050, we could hope to find some more profound answers to the riddle of existence than that measured in the rise and fall of carbon atoms. We could also hope to find some more sensible (but, possibly, less dramatic) solutions to any environmental challenges we face.
Solutions that are outside politics, the morality of sacrifice, and the forced diminution of the population would be welcome.
  • You can find Josie Appleton's superb review here, at Spiked!: Measuring the Political Temperature.
  • And for those who insist on sacrificing their had-earned dollars, the book reviewed is Mark Lynas' Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. Look for it in an urn near you.

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2 Comments:

Blogger The Tomahawk Kid said...

Six degrees of sacrifice
When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream in shout. 'Advice' from Robert Heinlein.

- I have seen Penn and Teller doing this a few times

5/25/2007 10:33:00 am  
Anonymous Tim Wikiriwhi said...

Is it not ironic that we have a Statist organization (Genesis) championing freedom and industry against the destroyers are a voluntary organization(Green Peace).
It is a case of the right hand fighting with the left as one branch of government is Hell bent on Kyoto and yet the other is against it.
Of course Genesis has monopoly powers granted to it and is wealthy enough take up this fight in its own cause, yet the average man would not stand a chance. (one rule for the state another for the plebs) What this shows is Rand is in fact wrong to say governments don’t produce. What she ought to say (as we Libertarians do) that the State ought not to produce.
This is a very different scenario to Atlas Shrugged yet the consequence of Non producers tyrannizing over producers is the same with the same results. The lights go out.

5/26/2007 09:58:00 am  

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