So what’s wrong with skepticism?

I was a global-warming skeptic — skepticism is, I would argue, an honourable and proper stance for anybody with an interest in science and truth — long before the term was current or before the supporters of the global warming hypothesis started to call such people “deniers”, with all the baggage attached to the term.

My reasoning at the time was simple and shared by others equally doubtful about where the science was leading us. The big climate scare of the 70s was global cooling, about which we had been equally cynical. Some of us had experienced the winter of 1947 and the winter of 1963 and the wonderful summers of 1975 and 1976 and the equally appalling summer of 1977 and all we saw was a continuation of the weather patterns (insofar as these could possibly be called patterns) that we had known since our youth.

Those of us who still stood in awe of nature had witnessed (at the safe distance of our TV screens) events like the eruption of Mount St Helens and we remembered the terrible flooding that destroyed the village of Lynmouth or the storm that devastated parts of the east coast of England in 1953.

Historically it was possible to point to events world-wide of equal or greater magnitude all of which seemed designed to put man in his proper place in the great scheme of things.

Another reason for my devout cynicism at the time was that it appeared to be those self-same protagonists of the global cooling theory who were now expounding the global warming theory and that their recommended cure was in each case the same — namely that mankind was a blight on the face of the earth, that civilisation was destroying the planet, and that only by doing penance to Gaia could the race be redeemed.

This penance always involved, to a greater or less extent, “unpicking” the Industrial Revolution and returning to a sort of “golden age” when (as those of us who studied history in any depth could have told them) life was nasty, brutish and short and the exponents of this rather bizarre idea would almost certainly have been the first casualties since their misanthropic philosophy would have received the shortest of shrifts from people more concerned with making sure they had enough wood for the fire in the coming winter or enough nuts and berries for tomorrow’s breakfast than listening to the inane ramblings of men trying to convince them that this way of life was in some way preferable to having a full set of teeth and the reasonable chance of living for 80 years instead of the more probable 35.

It would perhaps be facile to blame the gullibility of those who continue to believe in the ravings of such people, in the face of all the evidence, on a decline in belief in the spiritual but it is tempting to call to mind Chesterton’s comment that when people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing they believe in anything.

And in particular it appears to be an essential of the human condition that they are most likely to believe in things which a rational being ought to want not to happen.

It’s this question of the spiritual aspect that brings me to an unfortunate sub-headline in a recent article by the environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean in which he is reported — though to be fair this is a sub-editor’s interpretation — to be calling for the resignation of IPCC boss Pachauri “to avoid harming the global warming cause further”.

According to Chambers dictionary a cause is “an ideal, principle or belief, in the name of which people band together to do something”, which hardly seems to fit global warming any more than it fits relativity or gravity. We would look askance at anyone who was planning to “do something” about the fact that water freezes at a certain temperature or boils at another and if he were organising a group which planned to have the earth go the other way round the sun we would certainly be sending for the men in white coats in very short order.

To talk of the “cause” of global warming shows the same sort of detachment from reality and is only possible because human understanding of the workings of the climate is so scanty that it is possible to spout any old rubbish on the subject and, provided you shout it loud enough and accompany it with repeated calls of “trust me; I’m a climate scientist”, the gullible (politicians and most non-scientists) and the knaves (professional environmentalists to the fore) will believe it and happily join the “cause” because they hope it will give them power, influence and (above all) money.

In happier times climate change (which is what global warming became when it looked as if the warming might not be going to continue ad infinitum) would have been the subject of serious research in which scientists from a range of disciplines — not least statistics — would have propounded hypotheses and tested these to see whether they stood up to examination by modelling and observation and the ruthless cross-examination of their peers.

Not today, it seems. Global warming is a “cause”, a pseudo-religion with all the most unpleasant characteristics of a cult and one whose acolytes are prepared to go to almost any lengths to pursue without the slightest justification in empirical observation. Which means the science is irrelevant; only the belief matters.

The danger with this is that when global warming goes into reverse as it surely will (and there are signs that the current warming cycle has peaked) the priests of this religion will initially deny that any such cooling is taking place using carefully selected statistical methods and will simply shout their beliefs even louder and ratchet up their ad hominem attacks on those who dare to disagree with them, secure in the knowledge that there are enough “environmental correspondents” on-side to cover their rear while they look for a safe exit.

When it becomes patently evident to all, including their political paymasters, that temperatures are heading back down — to the 1970s level or, God forbid, the 1870s level — they will simply re-invent themselves, with the assistance of the useful idiots in the media, as priests of the same Church of Climate Change with the same message as before only this time for “warming” read “cooling”.

You don’t believe it? Watch this space.

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