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October 29th 2013 print

Peter Smith

Love global warming? Sure do

Fact and reality are cruel things, but true believers can ignore them readily enough when wrapped in the comfort of favourite doomsday visions

On the whole, I generally lean on the hopeful side when it comes to the current crop of existential threats. I think H L Mencken had it about right:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

For example, I don’t take too seriously concern about resource depletion or impending worldwide food shortages. Others do. I don’t think government debt will bring economic catastrophe, as some do; only more prolonged economic stagnation than would otherwise occur. I tend to be more sanguine about combating the threat of pandemics decimating populations than do some people.

On the other hand, I am not hopeful about everything. I am concerned when it comes to the threat Islam represents to our enlightened Western way of life. Others are not nearly as concerned.

We live in a plural society. There is often disagreement about the magnitude and extent of potential threats to our wellbeing, to our prosperity, to our way of life. But whatever our different views about the magnitude and extent of particular threats we all usually share the same hope that the threats, whatever they are, will not be realised.

I don’t believe the ban-the-bomb protesters in the 1950s hoped for nuclear holocaust. This boils down to self-preservation. It would be bizarre if numbers of people wanted bad things to happen simply to be proved right. It would amount to a death wish. We would have reason to suspect the motives and perhaps the sanity of those hoping for the worst. For example, I fervently hope that my concerns about Islam will prove to be unfounded. Why in the world would I hope to be proved right when the consequences would be potentially devastating for my children and their children?

OK then; we can say, can’t we, that people of goodwill and sound mind, who might disagree about whether this or that development represents an existential threat, nevertheless come together in hoping the threat will prove empty? Well, not always, seems to be the correct answer, if the threat of global warming is any guide.

I am not a psychologist but it seems to me that global warming shows that there is a tipping point where those warning about a particular threat become so attached to the realty of the threat that their worst fear is that it will prove empty. This phenomenon goes way beyond stubbornness in the face of contrary facts, in the manner of a Galbraithian ‘conventional wisdom’. It has much closer resonance with the world of Dr Strangelove.

The Greens, most politicians of any hue, many climate scientists and academics, ABC and Age journalists, and countless others, seem to show all the signs of having effectively fallen in love with global warming, just as Strangelove fell in love with the Bomb. Each cyclone, flood, bushfire, or drought seems to whet their appetite for yet more destructive havoc to be wreaked on the crass material world by the wrathful god of global warming. We told you so, springs readily to their salivating lips.

Am I going too far? Am I misrepresenting the situation? I don’t think so. In any event, this is my impression gained from listening to, watching, and reading, the warmists. They have boxed themselves in by accepting honours, privileges and riches; by castigating sceptics as deniers; and, most critically, by establishing global warming as an article of faith. What else is ‘settled science’ but faith? “Tony Abbott is a climate change criminal”, according to Adam Bandt. Well he should know as one of the high priests of warmism.

This is not about whether the threat of global warming is real or exaggerated or confected. It is about how and why the tipping point was reached where numbers of otherwise rational people show all the signs of (desperately) wanting it to be real. I have no ready explanation for this, but there is a lesson which is by no means novel.

Instead of discovering the ‘the truth’ it is best, in fact essential, to arrive at a hypothesis. That way, unadorned facts will continue to hold sway over theory. There will be so much less temptation to ignore, or misrepresent, or contort facts, when they are not obliged to fit ‘the truth’. The lack of any significant warming for 15 or 16 years, while carbon dioxide levels have continued rising, is a fact, in so far as measuring devices are reliable. This fact should (and must) be considered against ‘the hypothesis’ – not ‘the ex cathedra dogma’ – that catastrophic man-made global warming is both underway and primarily caused by carbon dioxide emissions.

It is pointless to consider facts at all, if ‘the truth’ has already been discovered. In such a faith-based world, any deviation of fact from ‘the truth’ means that the fact is wrong or must be rearranged to fit ‘the truth’. That unfortunately is where we are; in the hands of high priests, as were primitive peoples of earlier ages.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics