06 February 2007

Environmental Apocalyptus for the Rest of US

In case you missed the link from yesterday, here's where we got that clever title!

A Necessary Apocalypse
By J.R. Dunn

A man who ceases to believe in God does not believe in nothing; he believes in anything.
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The apocalyptic vision of global warming serves a deep need of the environmentalist credo, the dominant pseudo-religious tendency of our age in the prosperous West.

For good or ill, human beings are constructed to believe, and faith has its demands.. Along with the concrete elements that demand belief (that fire burns and that it's not wise to walk off cliffs, for example) there exists an apparent necessity for a belief in "the rock higher than I" - a belief in a superior entity that can inspire awe and gratitude, that can be turned to in hard times, that can act as witness to injustice and dispenser of mercy.

Despite the claims of our current crop of militant atheists such as Dawkins and Harris, this is not simply brain-dead foolishness. Religious belief is hard-wired into human beings, by what means and for what purposes we don't yet understand. (A much wiser atheist, the biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote in On Human Nature that he intended to demonstrate that religious belief played an evolutionary role and could thus be explained by Darwinism. That was thirty years ago - if he ever succeeded, I haven't heard about it.)

When religious belief is subverted, it does not, as Chesterton implied, simply vanish. It is almost immediately replaced by another set of beliefs on a similar level of abstraction and serving the same purpose. Sometimes it's an import, such as Buddhism or TM. Sometimes it's a creed deliberately created to serve a political agenda, as we see in Nazism and Communism. Sometimes it's the goofy SoCal syncretism currently expressed in Wicca and Neopaganism. ("If people seriously want to be pagans," the late Joe Myers, a Christian brother of my acquaintance once said. "They'd become Roman Catholics.") And sometimes they're a combination, a weird melange of ideas picked up from various sources that (and usually not coincidentally) also serve a political purpose. Which brings us to environmentalism.

That environmentalism is in fact a pseudo-religion goes without saying. Like all such, it possesses every element of contemporary legitimate belief. It has a deity, in this case the goddess Gaia, the personification of the living Earth, (first envisioned by James Lovelock, whom we can slot in as high priest). It has its holy books, most changing with the seasons, and most, as is true of the Bible with many convinced Christians, utterly unread. It has its saints, its prophets, its commandments, religious rituals (be sure to recycle that bottle), a large gallery of sins, mortal and otherwise, and an even larger horde of devils. (Let me pause here to sharpen a horn.)

Another item that a pseudo-religion must have is an apocalypse - and that's what global warming is all about.

In fact, the apocalyptic is the major fulcrum of environmentalism, the axis around which everything else turns. It's environmentalism's major element of concern, its chief attraction, and the center of discussion and speculation, in much the same way that some Protestant variants of Christianity are obsessed above all with sin. So crucial is the apocalypse to environmentalism that there has been a whole string of them, one after the other, covering every last aspect of the natural world. If one don't git ya, the next one will.

Green emphasis on the apocalyptic appeared early, accompanying the introduction of mass environmental awareness itself. Silent Spring, published in 1962, represents the first environmentalist scripture -- nothing other than a modern book of Revelations. Rachel Carson, a popular nature writer, was dying of cancer while writing the book, and Silent Spring became an outlet for her rage and grief. Carson predicted the imminent coming of a stricken world, a world poisoned by the synthetic products of the chemical industry, in which no birds sang and human children would not be immune. The early 60s were marked by fears of the consequences of atmospheric nuclear tests, and the suggestion that chemicals were just as deadly found a willing audience.

Pollution - a word that itself bears many religious connotations -- became a byword of the era. That fact that the phenomenon encompassed virtually every aspect of technical civilization including car exhausts, household plastics, and power generation, guaranteed it a good long run. Truly grotesque stories, ranging from dioxins eating sneakers from children's feet to hushed-up epidemics of cancer, made the rounds. None were anything more than grist for Snopes.com, and the promised chemical doomsday never arrived. But Carson's work set the pattern for all the environmental apocalypses to come.

The next example was overpopulation, its prophet the notorious Paul Ehrlich. His set of tablets was titled The Population Bomb and if anything, it was even more popular than Silent Spring. Ehrlich's thesis was that relentlessly burgeoning population would overstress the earth's "carrying capacity", use up all available resources, and lead to the collapse of civilization before the 20th century was out. The argument seemed irrefutable to those not familiar with the uncertainties surrounding demography (Thomas Malthus had made similar series of predictions early in the 19th century).

Countless offshoots of Ehrlich's book appeared, and overpopulation became one of the standard ideas of the late 60s, embraced by the counterculture, policymakers, academics, and the media. Even today, an era in which deflating national populations are the problem, it's by no means unusual to come across people still living in Ehrlich's nightmare world, much the same as the Amish or Mennonites have preserved their far more pleasant way of life into modern times. Ehrlich became quite wealthy, and the master of his own foundation devoted to the study of the "overpopulation threat". To this day, he contends that his thesis is correct. The whole episode is begging for a detailed historical study.

A variant combining aspects of both theories had a brief run in the early to mid 70s: the doctrine of universal famine. Pollution would poison croplands and stunt agricultural production, and overpopulation would do the rest. The problem here was the fact that proponents insisted that doom was imminent, with famine appearing as early as 1975 or 1980 at the latest. The experience taught the Greens to be a little more vague with dates.

The early 1980s saw a reprise of earlier fears of nuclear destruction (a workable definition of an "advanced civilization" could well read "one in which there is sufficient leisure time for large numbers of people to worry about doomsday"). The nuclear freeze campaign, largely engineered by the KGB, took up much of the public attention devoted to environmental crises. But even this effort was given an environmental gloss when scientific impresario Carl Sagan put together a road show of "mainstream scientists" to promote the concept of a "nuclear winter".

The firestorms generated by a nuclear strike would generate smoke so thick as to block out the sun across much of the northern hemisphere, causing a collapse of the terrestrial ecology. Nuclear winter never quite caught on outside of certain elite circles, in part due to flaws in the theory. Sagan's specialty was exobiology, the study of possible extraterrestrial life-forms, and it developed that the climate model he'd used was based on the atmosphere of Mars, a planet locked in an ice age for the past billion years. Nuclear winter faded with the nuclear freeze movement. All the same, just before his death Sagan made it known that he'd willingly accept a Nobel for his role in preventing World War III.

Ozone depletion, the next environmentalist flurry, was a little too esoteric to generate the uncritical devotion accorded to pollution and overpopulation. It involved arcane chemical reactions, took place in the stratosphere, and seemed to be confined to Antarctica. (Although the northern hemisphere was home to the bulk of the offending chlorofluorocarbons, the Arctic didn't seem to have the same problem.) But ozone depletion did serve a useful Green purpose in drawing public attention to the atmosphere, and confusing people as to exactly what the problem was all about. (I would guess that something like two-thirds of the people in this country believe that ozone depletion and global warming are part of the same phenomenon.)

But in fact, global warming has actually adapted elements of all previous environmental crazes. It holds that carbon dioxide (a naturally-occurring compound that comprises a large portion of the atmosphere) is a form of pollution, the same as Carson's detested synthetic chemicals. Like that involving overpopulation, the threatened catastrophe is universal, and implicated in everyday practices and institutions. As with the universal famine, the effects are concrete and horrifying, though the dates have been left vague - ‘in the coming century', rather than in a year or two. As with the nuclear freeze, the human villains are easily identified, their actions, which place all human life in jeopardy, beyond redemption. As with ozone depletion, mainstream scientists have a remedy - even if it's unproven and unnecessary.

The lessons of previous environmental panics have been carefully applied to global warming No other environmentalist program has been prepared with such detail, purpose, and conviction. A skilled cadre of scientists, activists, and publicists exist who have devoted entire careers to nothing else. A vast literature has appeared analyzing not climate as a whole, not the interactions of the entire system, but solely and uniquely global warming. In many ways, warming has become both more and less than an ideology: it has become an industry, one that with such financial elements as carbon offsets can easily support itself.

The global warming program has been in play for a quarter of a century. It has been quite successful, convincing a small majority of the population that such warming is in fact occurring and is caused by manmade emissions. It is not a fad of the decade like overpopulation or nuclear winter. Nothing, not scientific evidence, not common sense, not the fact that much of the United States is basking in subfreezing temperatures as I write this, will be allowed to overturn it. The environmentalist movement has staked everything on this program. Not for the sake of science; most of the science is wrong or fabricated. (This week's IPCC report marks no change in this regard.) Not for humanity; they have never cared for humanity. Not to alter the climate itself; no such program has been suggested, and in any case the earth's climate, an unstable planet-wide chaotic system, will go its own way no matter what we do. But for one reason: to make environmentalism a basic element of millennial society.

And that's where the danger arises. The problem with this type of pseudo-religion is that they're essentially heresies, and like most heresies far more bloodyminded than the parent religions that they otherwise mirror. This is obvious when we examine Nazism and communism. The same strain in environmentalism may be hidden, but it's there. This creed has killed massive numbers and forthrightly contemplated death on an even larger scale.

The banning of DDT in 1971 resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people in the developing world, most of them children, from insect-borne diseases such as malaria. (This despite the fact that the use of DDT to fumigate homes could have no serious effect on the environment.) Yet no environmental group has ever made note of the fact, and all oppose the reintroduction of DDT for any purpose. The DDT ban places Rachel Carson in an exclusive circle shared only by Karl Marx as a writer whose work alone caused vast amounts of human misery. (Adolf Hitler was, of course, more man of action than writer. It's doubtful that Mein Kampf in and of itself could have triggered the same upheavals as Hitler's actions.)

Death on a scale beyond even Mao was something openly contemplated in respectable circles of the cult. One byproduct of the universal famine panic was a concept called "triage". Adapted from the emergency medical technique in which the dying are put to one side while the less injured receive priority treatment, triage advocates suggested that certain "failed" nations be completely isolated from the rest of the world to bring about a "die-off" of their "excess" population, a process that would have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions. This was not a crackpot notion; it was presented as a serious policy issue and discussed as such in outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. The particular "failed" nation always suggested by these people was India, one of our epoch's economic powerhouses.

For a third example of bloodymindedness we need only mention the environmentalist and animal rights "direct-action" groups that have utilized terrorism, sabotage, arson, assault, everything short of murder in their campaigns against offending companies and even innocent third parties.

Increasingly strident rhetoric of the kind being heard from public figures such as Heidi Cullen and even Prince Charles may well result in a vicious circle in which public frustration leads to violent action leading to more frustration and on to the inevitable climax. Up to this point, environmentalist violence has been held in check by force of law - and only by force of law. How long this will remain the case depends on how much power the Greens are allowed to accrue.

True believers, a millennial creed, and easy targets - these have always and forever made for an unholy mix. Nothing about environmentalism suggests that it won't follow the same ugly path.

J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.


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5 comments:

Justin said...

Very interesting review of the development of environmentalism. I can kind of understand the contempt now. I am willing to accept that global warming might not be happening and in this case, as with Iraq, I will be hoping I am on the wrong side of the issue.

I find the comparison of apocalyptic science and religion to be appropriate and it is interesting to see how common themes can be held by seemingly opposing bodies. I would be interested to read Mr. Dunn's criteria for categorizing a movement as religious or pseudo-religious and I doubt the distinctions would be concrete. Either way, I agree that all things should be scrutinized and I am glad these discussions are taking place. Nobody knows how the warming issue will unfold, but at least for strategic national interests I support policies that 1) Reduce dependency on fossil fuels and 2) Subsidize R and D into sustainable energy sources that U.S. companies will dominate in the coming century. Would it be wrong to use the Global Warming political energy to drive a more urgent energy transformation? Any thoughts?

T.D.S. said...

Jake,

A very interesting article here. However, it is one I must completely disagree with.

To label the climate change movement as millenarian seems faintly absurd. The current push that has taken this subject from fringe to the mainstream has been caused not by pseudo-religous hysteria but a fairly uniform scientific consensus. The IPCC report is an example of this and is in line with countless other scientific reports based on long-term observation of such things as carbon dioxide levels, glacial movements, ice drilling etc.

Of course, science is not prophecy but one can map trends and make predictions based on empirical evidence. The fact that one is aware that "fire burns" is not based on faith, it is based on the fact that last time you put your hand in a flame it hurt and this adheres to system of understanding of chemistry and physics that has been developed through observation and research. Of course, it might not hurt next time you put your hand in flame, just as the sun might not rise tomorrow morning, but one can make a fairly accurate guess that it will. It is the same with climate change. It is true models are only best guesses but there is some substance to their reasoning.

I would dispute also that Man is 'prebuilt' to have faith and a corruption of this innate predisposition leads to envirnmentalism. I think it is more the case that one makes provisional models to guide oneself through life and to try and comprehend things, some of which are better than others. A model grounded in the scientific method, when subjected to rigorous analysis, has proven itself a good number of times over the last few hundred years in explaining the physical environment around us, which is why we don't use leeches or believe the Earth is the centre of the universe any more.

I would also question the idea to the idea that Buddhism is a "subversion" of true belief. This demonstrates one advantage over science over religion. In science if two people have differing beliefs they would (in theory) look to evidence to argue their case. With religion one perception of Truth e.g. Chrsitianity or Islam sits, ultimately, rather uneasily with other beliefs as they have no method of resolving dispute as they are grounded in irrationalilty. This impasse is what causes religious wars, each side claiming their explanation of god is the only 'True' one. Science accepts the possibility that is is wrong and leaves open the opportunity to be disproven. Hence its models of explanation are more feasible than superstition.

I think it is necessary to distinguish between the tree-hugger loony element (e.g. animal rights extremists) and the core proponents of the climate change movement, the latter, I believe, has a credible case to make. They were right about ozone. CFC levels were linked to depletion in the ozone layer and were therefore banned. CFC levels have decreased and ozone levels have stabilized. Pollution, although sometimes portrayed 'apocalyptically' can have a major effect on people's lives. Take the case of Japanese mercury poisoning after the Second World War. It was only after public protesting that this was remedied. Public awareness is key in this process because sometimes local governments can be slow to act in the face of well financed or politically powerful interests (this is happening in China at the moment), thus a few hyped tv reports I would say are perhaps acceptable to improve a population's standard of living.

Also, I'm not quite sure about the author's comments about DDT. I wikipedia'ed it (not the best source I know) and it said it was banned in Sub-Saharan Africa because it was thought that the microbes would become resistant. Perhaps a touch hyperbolic to compare it to the Holocaust maybe...

The nuclear digression seems completely irrelevant to the argument. Of course, science can be wrong, it makes no claims for infallibility, but it seems more reasonable to try use a rational outlook to explain things than dismissing that which does not sound appropriate. In fact I was shocked to hear the author saying that the science is "wrong and fabricated" based on the fact it is quite nippy in the USA at the moment. For one thing this seems to demonstrate a complete ignorance of the notion of what climate change is - it is big trends over long periods of time, resulting in a few degrees increase in average global temperature.

I accept that there is a possibility that climate change might be erroneous, as happened with the millenium bug. However, it seems to be the best guess based on the evidence. Therefore, I would argue that it is best to ignore all the slacker hippy stuff and examine the facts, which for the most part predict that:

(i) man has produced lots of CO2 emissions
(ii) these emissions affect and will continue to affect the temperature of the planet
(iii) the effects will have disasterous results for certain areas, e.g. those that get flooded from the rise in sea level

a friend of lybberty said...

T.D.S,

(i) is indisputable
(ii) is not. though scientists have detected warming of roughly 1 degree celsius since 1900, the connection between manwade C02 (a normally occurring component that makes up the vast majority of atmosphere composition) and the weak warming trend. There is hardly a consensus about warming or the degree to which the earth will warm or whether it is man-caused or even CO2 caused (many believe it has more to do with the ocean and solar influence) or if there is indeed, anything that man can do to lessen or stop global warming.
(iii) again, no consensus here. there is a slight warming trend (remember, 1 degree celsius since 1900). there is still a lot of division over whether this slight warming trend will continue, increase, decrease and even then, exactly what the effects will be.

T.D.S. said...

I'm afraid I must disagree.

(i) Whether CO2 causes global warming

I agree that the difference in temperature over the 20th C has been about 1 degree. In fact I would say it might even be lower, being about 0.4-0.8 degrees in surface temperature according to the 2001 IPCC report. However, on a global scale this is a significant increase. A 5 degree decrease would put us in a massive ice age.

http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/figspm-1.htm

Compare this to the level of CO2 since the start of industrialisation according to the American Vostok ice drilling records, far above previous levels. Bare in mind that CO2 production is increasing exponentially.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Carbon_Dioxide_400kyr.png

Here is a graph that correlates the two factors, quite a strong relationship is clearly present:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Vostok-ice-core-petit.png

Combine this with glacial retreat, sea level (15cm rise over 20th C), tree cores and other indirect measurements and this makes a compelling argument.

(ii) Is it man-made?

- Sea change: sea levels have risen, sea ice has decreased and the top 300m has warmed 0.18C over the past 50 fifty years. (Source: 'The Science and Politics of Climate Change', Dessler/Parson)

- Solar activity: Observed since 1970s, there is an 11 year solar cycle which produces only 0.1% change in solar variation, though the IPCC concedes that knowledge on the subject is "very low". When placed in General Circulation Models (GCMs), however, it produces only a small effect.

http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/fig6-6.htm

(iii) Will there be future warming?

Current GCMs predict an increase in temperature of 1.5-5.8 degrees.

http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/fig9-13.htm

The MIT version with % likelihood of occurrence:

http://mit.edu/globalchange/www/wheel.degC.html

(iv) Can Man do anything? (I thought you said it wasn't going to happen...)

Straight from denial to despair here. I would say cutting down on CO2 would be an idea, perhaps? America, if the oil lobby can be persuaded, would be a good place to start, since it produces 30.3% of the world's CO2. (Source: US Department of Energy). Free market solutions are possible e.g. Richard Branson offering a £10 million prize for finding a solution. Also, there is the success story of CFCs to remember.

(v) The Effect would be bad:

- Disruption of Gulf Stream
- Predicted flooding of Netherlands, Beijing, Calcutta Bangladesh = displacement of 60 million people following rise of 18-20 feet sea level
- Increase in the number of extreme conditions (hurricanes,tornadoes, draughts etc)
- Disruption to flora/fauna
(Source: David King, UK Science Advisor to the PM)

Is there a consensus of scientific opinion?

Basically, yes.

Dr Vicky Pope (UK Met Office): "climate change is established beyond reasonable doubt"

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6320515.stm

48 Nobel Prize winning scientists:

"By ignoring scientific consensus on critical issues such as global warming, [President Bush and his administration] are threatening the Earth's future." June 21, 2004

Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief, 'Science' Magazine

"Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic is rare in science."

The American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science

"the evidence for human modification of climate change is compelling."

Number of peer-reviewed articles concerning 'climate change' published in scientific journals:
928
% in doubt as to the cause of global warming: 0

Articles in the popular press: 636
% in doubt: 53%

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686

and finally

US Energy Secretary, Sam Bodman

"Human activity is contributing to changes in our Earth's climate and that issue is no longer up for debate."

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N02474321.htm

Enough there to show that fighting climate change is not mere hysteria, would you not say?

T.D.S. said...

http:// upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/ Carbon_Dioxide_400kyr.png


The CO2 level one. Sorry, it didn't seem to publish.

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