Public anxieties have been exploited.
Politicians are closing down industries, destroying jobs and proposing tax increases on energy, which like food is necessary for survival, and justifying it because of a “climate emergency.” How did we get to the point where virtually no one is raising their hand and asking, “Are you really sure this is good for us”?
How did this apparent consensus come about? It is a long story and an important one…
It starts with feelings of guilt
It originates deep down in human psychology. Everyone has some level of ill-defined anxiety that things aren’t quite right or they could go wrong and something should be done about it. This feeling might relate to any number of things from unresolved tensions in personal relationships and “I’m falling behind financially” to, “Did I turn the stove off when I left the house this morning?” These feelings are omnipresent. In religious practice they are the feeling of having sinned and are alleviated through prayer and repentance.
Throughout history this anxiety has given rise to a string of forebodings that have included, being struck down by God, getting invaded, war, famine, lack of water, pestilence, disease, plagues, superbugs, flooding, overpopulation, nuclear war, fascism, communism, Y2K… just to name a few. This phenomenon is explored further in the New York Times opinion article, “It’s Always the End of the World as We Know It,” by the late Dr. Denis Dutton who was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
From an evolutionary perspective it’s not hard to see how anxieties about threats, and having the motivation to put them right, is advantageous.
Worries about climate were spun together from several anxieties. And one talented politician was the mastermind who wove them into a narrative supported by the “settled science” of a “climate emergency” and mobilized an army of youth leaders to shape public opinion.
Feelings of anxiety are universal and are at the root of the “climate emergency.” The feeling of having sinned is alleviated in religious practice by praying and repentance.
In the 1960s and 1970s a number of popular, influential books stoked widespread concern about the state of the planet.
Al Gore’s anxieties
In common with many people growing up in the 1960s Al Gore was concerned about a number of issues including the threat of a nuclear war, soil erosion from poor farming practices and harmful chemicals. He recalled his mother’s troubled response to Rachel Carson’s book about DDT and pesticide abuse, Silent Spring, published in 1962.
While serving in the Vietnam war he saw the effects of the herbicide Agent Orange, and subsequently realized how it causes chromosomal damage and birth defects. “It is just one of the better-known examples of a whole new generation of powerful compounds created in the chemical revolution,” he wrote, “which picked up speed after World War II; over the past fifty years, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and thousands of other compounds…Too many have left a legacy of poison that we will be coming to terms with for many generations.”
While at Harvard he was introduced to “the idea of a global environmental threat” by Professor Roger Revelle who explained that “higher levels of CO2 would create what he called the greenhouse effect, which would cause the earth to grow warmer.” He remarks in his book, Earth in the Balance, “The implications of his words were startling…
Over 380 studies were published between 1800 and 1961 that documented levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The findings did not conform to the neat upward curve Al Gore showed in the movie An Inconvenient Truth. See paper here.
Inconvenient scientific papers
Al Gore’s book describes his challenges in the political arena and how in the 1970s, “most people thought of the environment in local or regional terms, so it was impossible to get adequate funding for research on global warming.”
He stated that Professor Revelle “was the first person in the world to monitor carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.” This point was conveniently inaccurate. In fact over 380 technical papers had been published between 1800 and 1961 that documented the measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
If he had taken note of their findings the whole carbon dioxide panic might have been nipped in the bud because they showed that its concentrations vary considerably and don’t follow the neat upward curve he pointed to from the top of a scissor lift in An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 documentary that has shaped public opinion so extensively.
Also unacknowledged was the landmark paper published by Guy Stewart Callendar, a Montreal born English steam engineer in 1938 that kicked off interest in forecasting global temperature increases and the effects of “artificial production of carbon dioxide.” Callender noted that the Earth had been warming between 1913 – 1935 coinciding with increasing levels of carbon dioxide levels that had been recorded in the United States and London. The paper was slightly inconvenient because at that time global cooling was the presiding fear and Callendar speculated that carbon dioxide would delay “the return of the deadly glaciers… indefinitely.”
Resource depletion and population were also worries
In 1972 the Club of Rome published a report The Limits to Growth, that described computer simulations showing that economic growth could not continue indefinitely because of resource depletion.
As if on cue, there was an oil crisis. At that time oil output was declining in the United States and the oil rich countries of the Middle East began to use their supplies as a political pawn, triggering shortages and lineups at gas pumps. The world appeared to be closing in on “peak oil” when the wells would start drying up, prices would skyrocket. There were visions of Mad Max monster trucks standing guard at gas stations.
Yet another thread were worries about the growing world population. A popular book published in 1968, “The Population Bomb” forecast that nothing could prevent famines in the following decade in which hundreds of millions of people would die. It felt like humanity was getting close to the limit that Thomas Malthus had written about in 1798. This article Getting Ahead of Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary summarizes the many dire forecasts made in the 1970s.
There were also growing worries about industrial effluents, air pollution, suburban sprawl, traffic congestion and general disregard for the environment.
Scientists and government agree. Action is needed!
In 1975 the threads came together at the “Endangered Atmosphere” conference with the call for scientists to work together to avert catastrophe. The president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the time, Margaret Mead, stated in the keynote address:
“What we need from scientists are estimates, presented with sufficient conservatism and plausibility but at the same time as free as possible from internal disagreements that can be exploited by political interests, that will allow us to start building a system of artificial but effective warnings, warnings which will parallel the instincts of animals”
The environment needed to be protected from the many growing pressures and the world needed to transition to “sustainable” forms of energy. Public anxiety was increasing, things had to change and the solutions were beyond anything any single country could achieve. The United Nations stepped forward to provide leadership and the Canadian, Maurice Strong, set up The United Nations Environment Programme.
Al Gore was instrumental in getting the matter of carbon dioxide and climate in front of the United States senate. He helped secure government funding for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a body set up in 1988 that was specifically tasked with reporting on “the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change.”
Climate science by definition has a purpose
It was at this point that “climate science” became a recognized discipline and by definition it presumes that it is a fact that carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is causing the climate to change and worthy of investigation. Prior to this, climate was studied across a broad range of disciplines including meteorology, environmental science, atmospheric sciences, oceanography, geography and geology. Carbon dioxide would have been viewed as no more significant than oxygen, nitrogen and water vapour.
The IPCC’s reports are considered as the authoritative final word on climate science by the media. The 1st Assessment Report (1990) was unsure whether global warming was human-caused or natural. The most recent report was more definitive concluding that most of the climate change since at least the 1950s was human-caused.
Over the last three decades at each of the IPCC climate conventions in Paris, Kyoto and Madrid the language relating to climate change and an impending catastrophe has been dialled up. The IPCC’s goals are unashamedly political and scientific bodies are swept along. When the American Meteorological Society states that, “Science is Confirmed as the Foundation for Global Climate Action” it is clear they are giving science a purpose beyond the objective pursuit of knowledge.
To presume that government funded “climate scientists” can provide an unbiased assessment of the science would be like expecting IT consultants in the 1990s to admit that the Y2K bug was nothing to worry about. Around $600 billion was spent on protecting the world from a computer catastrophe. Maybe the consultants’ efforts were the reason that when the clock struck midnight at the start of a new millennium nothing bad happened. Perhaps if we rewound the clocks and no one became bothered about the impending catastrophe we could have saved ourselves a lot of worry and much of the $600 billion
An army committed to preventing climate change
An Inconvenient Truth, its sequel An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power and the TED talks given by Al Gore are superbly produced and delivered. Everyone who sees them cannot help being alarmed and come away wishing to eliminate the production of carbon dioxide by every means possible. And indeed many young people were inspired to join Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps that has run 39 training conventions and trained over 17,000 “Climate Reality Leaders.”
With the fervour of believers in a higher purpose this army have used the power of storytelling and their social media skills to tip the online environment against anyone not embracing the climate emergency doctrine. They are the reason that if you Google anything about climate science or look on Wikipedia you will see that climate skeptics are misrepresented and thoughtful discussion is absent.
Anyone who dares to point out that human needs are important, or that the world’s climate and ecosystems are extraordinarily complex and their complexities should not be distilled into misleading end-of-the-world headlines are immediately attacked, de-platformed and discredited.