Immorality Pretending to Virtue
by Michael Hart
Climate alarm belongs to a class of issues characterized by a claim for which there is no evidence … [and which is] characterized by profound immorality pretending to virtue.
Climate Scientist Richard Lindzen
At the end of 2015, government leaders will once again gather, this time in Paris, to craft a global treaty that will commit governments to significantly reducing modern civilization’s dependence on fossil-fuel based energy.
Billed as an effort to “save the planet” from the scourge of carbon-induced climate change, it is in fact the latest manifestation of a utopian project to transform the world. It would purportedly usher in a more just, equitable, and sustainable world, all value-laden terms colonized by the world’s progressives to convince people that a world run on the basis of decrees issued by international bureaucrats and self-appointed experts would be better than one that continues to rely on the economic and political freedoms that underpin democracy and capitalism.
The alarmism that drives much of the public discussion of climate change is based on dubious assumptions, divided science, and disputed evidence claiming that something must be done – and done quickly – to halt and even reverse changes in the global climate and avoid catastrophic harm to the biosphere.
Ethicist Thomas Derr suggests that
talk of global warming has become pervasive—and pervasively one-sided. Churches of all varieties have signed on to the issue as a moral cause. Corporations, including former doubters, have adopted anti-warming language, either from new conviction or for convenient public image. The denizens of the annual Davos pilgrimage organized by the World Economic Forum, with a wary eye to the zeitgeist, added climate change to their list of major concerns in 2007. Politicians, with a few exceptions, dare not openly deny that there is a problem, though their responses may vary.
The pessimism driving alarmists’ apocalyptic claims, however, is more than matched by the optimism that underpins their assessments of proffered solutions. Some alarmists are even prepared to argue that their solutions can be win-win, i.e., good for the planet and good for the economy, an optimism that is wholly without foundation.
In the case of climate change, scientists by the end of the 1980s had succeeded in constructing a Kuhnian paradigm, i.e., defining normal climate science to be the work of those scientists who shared the assessment that the climate system could be largely understood as a matter of radiative balance, based on forcings and feedbacks, and principally controlled by the greenhouse effect, other factors being of secondary importance. They focused on finding a human or anthropogenic cause to explain recent climate change while underestimating the extent to which climate is always changing on all spatial and temporal scales.
Over the next quarter century, many scientists not part of the dominant group—i.e., those not committed to official science—made significant strides in understanding the role of other, natural factors, concluding that they were underspecified in the official understanding of the climate system.
Given the growing political importance that the official view had captured, governments acquiesced in efforts to demonize and ostracize those who failed to adhere to the politically driven consensus. To that end, the proponents of official science used all the tools at their disposal, from funding and publication decisions to public discourse that demonized non-conforming scientists, all at a great cost to the integrity of the scientific process.
Both groups of scientists agree that global climate change is real, part of the chaotic and unpredictable interaction of various natural cycles, including cycles in the earth’s rotation on its axis and around the sun, cycles in the sun’s energy output, and cycles in ocean surface temperatures and currents. The minority view, however, points to the significant body of scientific research indicating that the extent of recent change—whether warming or cooling—is both modest and fully within previous human experience; over human time there have been many larger changes in climate. The current phase of benign climate is of relatively recent origin (less than 12,000 years), and within that time frame there have been at least eight cycles of both warming and cooling, largely unaided by human activity. The recent relative warming is part of the reversal of what paleo-climatologists refer to as the Little Ice Age (ca. 1350–1800), which in turn succeeded the Medieval Climate Optimum (ca. 800–1200).
The willingness of some Christians to adopt many of the tenets of climate change alarmism betrays a disturbing shallowness in their religious understanding. It is hard, for example, to reconcile the anthropocentric nature of Christianity—an as both the steward and the center of creation whose sinful nature is redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—with the anti-human core of the alarmist movement, which holds that man is the despoiler of nature and posits the ideal as nature without man.
As papal scholar George Weigel astutely observes: “I doubt that … there is much ‘common ground’ to be found [by traditional Christians] with ‘creation care’ folks who implicitly worship Gaia rather than the God of the Bible. Gaia worship … carries with it an anthropology that treats the human person as a kind of anthropollutant, which leads in short order to a eugenic ‘morality’.” (Letters, First Things, April 2015).
In a similar vein, Michael Novak writes: “where people are poor, environmental conditions tend to be abysmal; and if the twentieth century proved anything, it was that the best way to end poverty isn’t red – the color of socialism – but blue, the color of liberty, personal initiative, and enterprise. … Blue Environmentalism, therefore, stands for the spreading of those institutions of empowerment that promote private property and creativity. It is not the natural endowment God gave the poor that is currently at fault, but the inadequacy of political systems and social institutions that fail to nurture and support it.”
The conversion of Pope Francis to the climate mantra in the lead-up to the Paris Conference at which governments will try once again to conclude a climate treaty with teeth indicates the extent to which this madness has permeated modern sensibilities.
The Pope’s June encyclical, Laudato Si’, reads like a primer of the global salvationist catechism and could have been written by any branch of the UN or by one of the multitude of environmental interest groups. It has transformed him into a modern media star, finding favor with all the “right” people, including all those who had long condemned Rome for its stubborn failure to commit to the modern secular agenda. Wittingly or not, Francis appears to have committed the Catholic Church to much of the new, post-Christian eco-morality that integrates fear of markets, condemnation of human progress and ingenuity, and belief in the power of technocrats to solve all the world’s problems, including that of so-called over-population.
From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has been focused on the plight of the world’s poor. Not surprisingly, concern for the poor is central to his encyclical, but in hitching his concern for the poor to the climate change crusade, the pope reveals an appalling level of economic illiteracy – a fault he shares with many religious leaders. Like them, he focuses on distribution, but without understanding the importance of production.
The models of development that the pope criticizes are the very ones that are leading to falling rates of poverty, reduced inequality, and fewer deaths due to natural disasters. The most hopeful sign of the past thirty years is that countries from India and China to Chile and Brazil have learned what it takes to first produce and then distribute wealth: free markets, entrepreneurship, and private property rights—an economy in which those who participate can, by their talents, work, and ingenuity, earn a decent living.
The pope seems to prefer the failed and discredited approach of statism, centered on the UN. He foresees the need for a global bureaucracy of unprecedented size and power, a technocracy on steroids, in R.R. Reno’s felicitous phrase. In this context, he endorses the Earth Charter, the brainchild of Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev, two of the world’s leading advocates of statist sustainable development.
It would be difficult to find a movement that has done more damage to the prospects of the world’s poor than the UN’s sustainable development campaign in all of its ramifications. Despite billions spent in the UN’s top-down approach to development, little of that has trickled down to the poor. Rather, as scholars such as William Easterly, Surjit Bhalla, Elinor Ostrom, and Deepak Lal have shown, the most effective development tool has been the gradual abandonment of the dirigiste, state-directed economics favoured by the UN and the embrace by more and more Third World governments of open markets.
The combination of anti-capitalism, corporate social responsibility, central planning, environmentalism, and the other core tenets of sustainable development, has been lethal for the world’s poor. Yet progressive opinion in the West maintains that the path to progress lies in more of the same.
For many people, Australian Cardinal George Pell’s take on global warming in 2012 was much more in keeping with traditional Church teaching. Pope Francis ignored Pell’s counsel in favour of such icons of the church of global warming as Ban Ki-Moon, Al Gore, and Jeffrey Sachs. In a 2012 lecture at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Pell clearly points to the anti-humanism of environmentalism, its incompatibility with Biblical teachings, and the tortured science it promotes.
Pell maintains his more traditional perspective and told an interviewer following the release of Laudato Si’ that the papal encyclical has “many, many interesting elements. There are parts of it which are beautiful. But the church has no particular expertise in science. The church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters. We believe in the autonomy of science.”
The appeal of post-Christian secular religion for many people—whether rooted in environmentalism or other belief systems—is that they have become skeptical of institutional Christianity but seek the comfort, certainty, and direction that religion can provide in their daily lives. Environmentalism offers a fully secular version of all the characteristics of more traditional transcendent belief systems: the need to avoid disaster by turning away from our sinful ways and by following a path of righteousness leading to harmony between man and nature. In a much-read speech delivered shortly before his death, novelist-physician Michael Crichton reached the same conclusion: “If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.”
The story of the past quarter century is that more and more people, particularly those in authority, have chosen the path of superstition and self-destruction, justifying their choices on the basis of misguided morals, false religious beliefs, and pseudo-scientific analysis. In the fall of 2015, the evidence for that choice will look increasingly tattered. The big issue now is whether or not, after so much has been invested in the science and politics of global warming, it is possible to reverse course.
Governments have largely limited their policy responses to rhetoric and symbolic gestures, many of them annoying but having little or no impact on climate or on the composition of the atmosphere but have, nevertheless, been considered politically necessary in order to satisfy the pressure brought to bear by the environmental movement, both nationally and internationally. Light bulbs that provide inferior light, toilets that have to be flushed twice, garbage that needs to be sorted into ever-more specific piles, and unsightly windmills that decimate local and migrating bird populations and plague local residents: they all form part of the symbolism of modern green politics. Ordinary people grumble but have managed to live with the annoyances.
But an even larger question arises: is climate change the real issue? It may have been the immediate issue to some, but as the years have gone by and the climate system has not responded as predicted, it becomes ever more apparent that climate alarmism is a stalking horse for a more ambitious agenda on the part of the UN and its progressive supporters. As Father Raymond de Souza observes, “the settled science … fits together all too neatly with the agenda of those arguing for ever greater control of economic life.” In that sense, climate alarmists have become no more than useful idiots in a much bigger game.
As rosily as the UN and its fellow travellers may paint their utopia of global governance and collectivist central direction by technocrats, both the desire and its fruits are grounded in the impulse to control and organize people’s lives for their own good. Alarmists have cloaked themselves in the mantle of morality and virtue, but the truth is that their project reeks of the same immorality as eugenics and other earlier population control movements.
It took the evils of Hitler’s quest for Aryan purity to open people’s eyes to the pernicious assumptions of eugenics. What will it take to open people’s eyes to the immorality of climate alarmism?
The 20th century saw the defeat of totalitarian impulses from both the right and from the left, only to be faced with new intellectual challenges to democracy and capitalism. Little has changed except the fables with which intellectuals have tried to lull us into the false comfort of a world of omnipotent governance.
As Ludwig von Mises, Jacob Talmon, Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, and other survivors of the barbarism of the mid-twentieth century counselled then and would counsel today, only the ancient virtues of common sense and moral courage will reverse the tide. Their contemporary heir, Thomas Sowell, observes in Intellectuals and Society that it is striking “how difficult it is to think of benefits [intellectuals] have conferred on anyone but their own circles—and how painfully apparent it is how much they have in fact cost the rest of society at large, not only economically but in many other ways. … [and yet] despite formidable weapons wielded by the intelligentsia in their crusades for cultural, moral, and ideological hegemony, they are not always able to neutralize the countervailing force of facts, experience and common sense.”
Robert Zubrin concludes that as a result of the growth in anxiety and the rise in radical responses, modern society faces a choice between a humanism based on freedom of choice, ingenuity, and prosperity and an anti-humanism that demands ever tighter controls upon human aspirations. As he says:
If the idea is accepted that the world’s resources are fixed with only so much to go around, then each new life is unwelcome, each unregulated act or thought is a menace, every person is fundamentally the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is the enemy of every other race or nation. The ultimate outcome of such a view can only be enforced stagnation, tyranny, war, and genocide.
The only antidote is to pursue a world based on continuing faith in God’s mercy and, under his dominion, in the virtues of human capacity for creativity, invention, and entrepreneurship and a deep respect for the dignity and freedom of each individual.
It will be cold comfort to future generations when their leaders finally realize how badly they have been fooled and how deeply they have embedded global warming hysteria into their cultural and governing norms, from tax policy to education programs. They will wonder, along with MIT climate scientist Richard Lindzen, why “the early twenty-first century’s developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree, and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly uncertain computer projections combined into implausible chains of inference proceeded to contemplate a rollback of the industrial age.”
Now is the time for governments to begin the painful task of dismantling a movement that they have helped to create and that now threatens much more than the integrity of science.
As the dates of the Paris meeting draw near, thoughtful people will need to screw up their courage and speak out. Nigel Lord Lawson, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer and one of the most perceptive critics of the climate alarm mantra, puts the issue bluntly: “Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked.”
Michael Hart is professor emeritus at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He is author of Hubris: the Troubled Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change, available at Amazon and other online booksellers in both print and e-book versions.
This article first appeared at the blog of the Cornwall Alliance.