Climate Hysterics vs. Heretics
September 2, 2008 · Updated 2:22 PM
It’s been a tough year for the high priests of global warming in the U.S. First, NASA had to correct its earlier claim that the hottest year on record in the contiguous U.S. had been 1998, which seemed to prove that global warming was on the march. It was actually 1934. Then it turned out the world’s oceans have been growing steadily cooler, not hotter, since 2003. Meanwhile, the winter of 2007 was the coldest in the U.S. in decades, after Al Gore warned us that we were about to see the end of winter as we know it.
In a May issue of Nature, evidence about falling global temperatures forced German climatologists to conclude that the transformation of our planet into a permanent sauna is taking a decade-long hiatus, at least. Then in August came former greenhouse gas alarmist David Evans’s article in The Australian, stating that since 1999 evidence has been accumulating that man-made carbon emissions can’t be the cause of global warming. By now that evidence, Evans said, has become pretty conclusive.
Yet believers in man-made global warming demand more and more money to combat climate change and still more drastic changes in our economic output and lifestyle. The reason is that they are believers, not scientists. No amount of empirical evidence will overturn what has become not a scientific theory but a form of religion.
But what kind of religion? More than 200 years ago, Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume put his finger on the process. His essay, “Of Superstition and Enthusiasm,” described how even in civilized societies the mind of man is subject to certain unaccountable terrors and apprehensions when real worries are missing. As these enemies are entirely invisible and unknown, like today’s greenhouse gases, people try to appease them by ceremonies, observations, mortifications, sacrifices such as Earth Day and banning plastic bags and gas-driven lawnmowers.
Fear and ignorance, Hume concluded, are the true source of superstition. They lead a blind and terrified public to embrace any practice, however absurd or frivolous, which either foolishness or charlatans recommends. The charlatans today are the would-be high priests of the global warming orthodoxy, with former Vice-President Al Gore as their supreme pontiff. As Hume pointed out, the stronger mixture there is of superstition, with its ambience of ignorance and fear, the higher is the authority of the priesthood.
As with the Church in the Dark Ages or the Inquisition during the Reformation, they denounce all doubters, such as Evans or Britain’s Gilbert Monckton as dangerous heretics, outliers in Gore’s phrase: or as willing tools of the evil enemy of a healthy planet, Big Oil.
This is not the first time, of course, that superstition has paraded itself as science, or created a priesthood masquerading as the exponents of reason. At the beginning of the previous century we had the fascination with eugenics, when the Gores of the age warned that modern industrial society was headed for race suicide. The list of otherwise sensible people who endorsed this fairy tale, from Winston Churchill to Oliver Wendell Holmes, is embarrassing to read today.
Then as now, money was poured into foundations, institutes, and university chairs for the study of eugenics and racial hygiene. Then as now, it was claimed that there was a scientific consensus that modern man was degenerating himself into extinction. Doubters were dismissed as reactionaries. And then as now, proponents of eugenics turned to the all-powerful state to avert catastrophe. A submissive public allowed politicians to pass laws permitting forced sterilization of the feeble-minded, racial screening for immigration quotas, minimum wage laws and other legislation which, in retrospect, set the stage for the humanitarian catastrophe to come.
Real science rests on a solid bedrock of skepticism, a skepticism not only about certain religious or cultural assumptions, for example about race, but also about itself. It constantly re-examines what it regards as evidence and the connections it draws between cause and effect. It never rushes to judgment as the high priests of climate change are doing today.
Politicians everywhere should be forced to take an oath similar to the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors: above all else, do no harm. The debate in the United States on this issue is rapidly building to a climax. Before they make decisions that could trim the U.S.’s gross domestic product by several percentage points a year and impose heavy penalties on Americans’ lifestyle, Republicans and Democrats, conservative and liberal alike need to re-examine the superstition of global warming.
Otherwise, the only thing it will melt away is everyone’s civil liberty.
With thanks to Arthur Herman, historian and author of Gandhi and Churchill, The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age.”