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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Global warming: it's all superstition

A survey says that 25% of British people are sceptical about global warming, reports the BBC website with an audible tut. But if any more than 75% of us did believe in it, wouldn't that be worrying in itself? The idea that the whole population should, in the space of a few short years, adopt a belief in something that can't be proved makes you deeply concerned about our gullibility.

I behave as if I believe in it, not because I've examined the evidence and come to a rational conclusion. Of course I've seen "An Inconvenient Truth", avoid taking the car anywhere if I can and get ill-tempered and messy sorting rubbish every Monday night, but I could no more explain to you why the earth is getting warmer than I could let you know the workings of the internal combustion engine. My belief in it is as scientifically grounded as my mother's economics. That is to say, she knew nothing about it but she believed, with some justification, that if you'd enjoyed a period of prosperity without working for it then it was bound to be followed by a period of relative poverty. She was always right. I think her economic views were shaped, not by any examination of the facts, but by a combination of her youth in the depression, in-bred northern scepticism and the drip-drip-drip experience of chapel-going christianity. If you'd spent like a drunken sailor you were bound to face a reckoning at some point. This is true but it's not rational. It's what they used to call superstition.

11 comments:

bZirk said...

I'm not convinced that global warming is a reality, but I do believe I should be prudent in my use of resources.

But what does it say about us that so many need to be threatened or to suffer in order to be responsible?

MikeP said...

I am convinced that global warming is a reality, although my belief is about as unscientific as your mother's economics. There seem to be too many unusual climate phenomena going on for things to be otherwise. As much as anything, though, when I look at the forces ranged against the idea that global warming might be a myth (or a plot), who may or may not be in the pay of the oil companies but are almost without exception swivel-eyed fanatics with a whole truckload of axes to grind, I find myself lining up behind a bunch of scientists who, by and large, have no reason to pull the wool over our eyes. Who wants to line up behind Lord Monckton, Nigel Lawson and Christopher Booker? I instinctively trust the scientists, and instinctively mistrust the politicians, economists and polemicists. If that's superstition, so be it.

David Hepworth said...

I know what you mean but I can't agree. I think too much of what passes for political debate nowadays is not about the issues: instead it's a game of find-the-bad-guy and boo and hiss accordingly.

Nick White said...

This cartoon summarises part of my "reasoning" on how to think and behave: http://bit.ly/bJs0U7

And, on balance, there are more idiotic articles on the sceptics' side - e.g. the recent Daily Express front page in which they mocked climate change scientists because we had a bit of snow:
http://bit.ly/cl1g2i

Douglas said...

I have been a sceptic on this issue for a long time - well before the storm generated by the UEA e-mails.

It's not possible to go into depth on this here, but I would highly recommend reading the Global Warming Guerrillas article by Matt Ridley in the current Spectator.

It's an interesting analysis, which may well be An Inconvenient Truth for journalists, that amateur bloggers broke all the key stories of Climategate, not the mainstream media which largely parroted the 'settled consensus' line unthinkingly. Those of us who have followed these blogs for a while were stunned at the chutzpah of The Guardian claiming that they 'broke' the story. That said, the fact that the staunchly green Guardian is finally taking a more critical line is a sign of how huge the story has become.

For anyone wishing to explore this further, the article mentions all the key sceptic sites, which are hardly run by 'swivel-eyed fanatics'.

@MikeP - you question what those on the 'true believing' side of the debate have to gain but I fear this simple good vs evil characterisation is hopelessly outdated, given the huge sums involved in carbon trading and the obvious conflicts of interest that result. Add to that research grants and the simple fact that all bureaucracies are primarily interested in their own survival. Do you think the IPCC is immune to this phenomenon?

Andy said...

There's an odd hypocrisy about the climate debate presented in the newspapers.

Elements of the commentariat suggest that we should dismiss an entire field of scientific research because of the (possibly indefensible and shameful) actions of a few.

Yet were we to dismiss an entire newspaper on the basis of every spurious or plain made-up story appearing in their pages on a daily basis, they'd've gone bust a long time ago.

MikeP said...

@Douglas
I m tired of being condescended to by people who assume that I can't figure these things out for myself. I'm well aware of the pitfalls of carbon trading - in fact I'm not at all sure that carbon trading is the answer anyway. But it's remarkable how the arguments of the sceptics always seem to come down to money, whether it's accusing scientists of wanting to get fat on the global warming 'scam' or claiming that we can't afford to do anything about the problem. I repeat: my instinct tells me that we're in trouble if we don't do something. Your instinct tells you that you're having the wool pulled over your eyes by people who, for whatever reason, are out to con you. Neither of us will ever be convinced by the other side. Let's hope, in 25 years time, that we (and our children) are still in a position to argue.

Michael said...

I also have a 'superstitious' belief that global warming is real. Call it a hunch. With six billion people in the world and 750 million vehicles, I can't believe that there will be no impact on the atmosphere and the environment. When I watch those old Ealing films it's a shock to see how few vehicles there were on the roads. China was like that when I first visited the place 20 years ago. Now it's complete gridlock in Beijing and there are a billion potential first time buyers of Geelys and Cherys. I'm not a sceptic, I'm a pessimist.

Douglas said...

But Michael,
That numbers game works both ways. I could equally point out that the fact the Earth is 2/3 covered by water and the land masses are populated by approx 2%, means that the theories about man's impact on the climate promulgated by the alarmist side are somewhat dubious.

To be clear, no-one is saying the climate is not warmer now than in the 19th century (the end of the Little Ice Age) or even that man's activities have not had some effect on the climate. What is massively disputed is the specific charge that the extra amount of CO2 that man has added to the atmosphere has caused or is causing catastrophic global warming.

You mention China and without a shadow of a doubt it has a severe pollution problem. But it's a problem we used to have in the West until things like the Clean Air Act were brought in. That is possible to solve but is a different matter entirely to the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming theory.

Andy said...

Douglas' comment on population density reminded me of this.

(NB I've not checked his arithmetic, so I'm going out on a limb).

Distributing the world population evenly over the 30% or so available land mass (including uninhabitable area) give us each about 5.4 acres. Didn't seem that much to me.

I'd take some issue with Douglas' assertion that "no-one is saying the climate is not warmer now than in the 19th century (the end of the Little Ice Age) or even that man's activities have not had some effect on the climate." There are plenty, some writing in influential publications (step forward Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail, Spectator, etc and others in The Times etc) who I am pretty certain have made a significant contribution to the rise in the skeptical percentage over recent weeks.

Douglas said...

I don't want to, ahem, flame David's blog with a global warming spat. As MikeP said, we'll not convince each other with a few exchanges on here.

From a media point of view though, I find it an absolutely gripping topic. The fact that bloggers have undoubtedly led the way on this, as mentioned in the Matt Ridley piece I linked to earlier, is a possible answer to those who fear the death of journalistic endeavour. I think it's only because the bloggers' beady eyes are trained on the IPCC, and not, say, the arms trade, that their praises have not been sung more loudly.

I accept that this poses a problem for people pursuing a career in journalism, but the fact is that people largely working in their spare time have been effortlessly ahead of specialist, full-time, trained professionals.

I know the 'wisdom of crowds' idea seems to be going somewhat out of fashion, but on this issue at least, 'citizen journalism' has played the mainstream media off the park.