The darkest hour is just before dawn so they say. The dark night of the soul precedes the awakening to everlasting light and eternal spiritual enlightenment. In the depths of Winter, at the mid winter solstice, Lady Luck pirouettes on a dime midway through her celestial sun-earth dance, the balance of the seasons tips north once again and new hope springs from despair, new life springs from the icy jaws of death, as the days, instead of getting shorter, colder and darker, grow longer and brighter.
Hope is not required as such. The process is entirely mechanical, predictable, inexorable. Spring, then Summer, will come, barring the vanishingly small possibility of a celestial catastrophe or sudden global cataclysm. Weather and climate is not like that. It is often chaotic, random, unpredictable, capricious. Thus, even now, it will probably get colder and bleaker, before it gets warmer. Winter is like that. We can predict the weather, with reasonable accuracy, just a few days ahead, but the chaotic nature of the complex dynamical system which determines our weather, combined with our inability to 100% precisely determine the current weather (initial conditions) forever hampers the quality, range and usability of our forecasts. But climate is different again; Dr Marvel knows what the future will be, which is why she is so gloomy and pensive on a dark Christmas morning, sitting on a train, being whisked in comfort through the “post industrial New Jersey wastelands”, sipping cheap coffee from a paper cup. Dr Marvel is a climate scientist.
She also knows what the climate present is, and she is alarmed:
This year wildfires became domesticated, inviting themselves into the homes of the wealthy and the poor. Lagoons of pig feces overflowed in the rains of Hurricane Florence, smearing the countryside and water supplies with a pink sludge of untreated waste. The entire Northern Hemisphere baked in the summer heat. The U.N. warned about the consequences of failing to curb warming, while the National Climate Assessment told us what was coming and what was already here.
She is fearful because she believes that knowledge of the climate present (bad weather and a planet on average 1C warmer than it was 150 years ago) is a reliable guide to the climate future. But climate isn’t like that. Predicting the climate, unlike predicting the weather (which climate scientists are most keen to attribute to a changing climate) is a boundary value problem, not an initial value problem. Hence, whatever climate scientists may think about the ‘current’ climate, it does not determine the future climate. Our climate future is dependent upon an intimate knowledge of the amount of energy received from the sun, the amount of energy radiated back into space from the earth, the amount of energy absorbed or emitted from oceans and land surfaces, and so on. Kate and her fellow climate miserabilists think they have this all worked out (to a reasonable degree of accuracy); thus their continued and exhaustive ‘expert’ public pronouncements around the basic theme that ‘We’re all doomed unless . . . . . ‘ The ‘unless’ part, according to the latest UN IPCC report, being the complete shakedown of the global economy to achieve zero carbon dioxide emissions by the mid 21st century.
Kate and her fellow climate scientists think that climate (and increasingly weather) are in the palm of Man, that future woe is revealed, a hot, sweaty, disaster-filled future glimpsed darkly through their crystal ball, but that they have in that same hand the power to cast a new ray of hope through that miraculous crystal globe such that it registers a brighter climate future.
Of course the climate is changing, say the politicians. But we don’t know why. It’s a mystery, an unknowable natural cycle that we have no power to stop. Imagine believing this (I don’t think for a minute they do). Imagine the terror you’d feel confronting a force of nature completely beyond your control. You’d rapidly go through all the stages of grief until you reached the bargaining phase. I’ve been there, after the terrible phone call or car accident, my mind cycling through what-ifs and could-have-beens, desperate for a reprieve that will never come.
The bold is mine. It goes to the heart of what makes climate catastrophists tick, I believe. It is the belief that we can control the weather and climate. It is the abject primeval fear that we are not able to control the weather and climate, that it is in the hands of capricious Mother Nature and that therefore we are powerless to prevent bad stuff happening. For 2 million years of human evolution, we have been powerless to prevent bad stuff happening: civilisations have risen and fallen, famines and plagues have killed millions, simply because we were powerless to stop bad stuff happening, simply because the weather and the climate were governed entirely by powerful natural forces beyond our control. It’s left a deep scar in our collective human subconscious. But everything changed when climate science™ came into being. Suddenly, we gained complete control over our climate destiny, if only the climate seers could convince the world to act. Hope sprung anew, even if it was rather pale and sickly.
It’s true that we’re not going to get utopia. The planet has already warmed by one degree Celsius. Most of the coral reefs are going to die, and many of the glaciers will melt. Climate change is here, leaving grubby human fingerprints on parched, burned, flooded and melted landscapes. But we don’t have to settle for dystopia. It’s going to be worse, but it doesn’t have to be bleak. We can have a “topia,” an ordinary future where we go about ordinary lives in cities on stilts, missing what we’ve lost but looking forward to better things. There is light in the future that doesn’t come from burning.
Hope, said Emily Dickinson, is the thing with feathers. I have never understood this poem. Hope does not keep me warm, nor is it always there. Hope is not comfortable. It demands things, drains you, makes you sad and anxious. Hope is the knowledge that we can prevent bad things, and the realization that we might choose not to.
It’s a cold, grey morning here, sliding into a cold grey afternoon. I’m sipping tea, from a china cup, looking out across a rural ‘wasteland’ of water-logged muddy fields and sad looking hedgerows. I have hope that Spring will be warm and bright (and dry!) – maybe even as good as it was last year. But I doubt it, because the weather, from one season to the next, is chaotic, unpredictable and uncontrollable. As regards our climate future, I might as well be standing at the gates of Dante’s Inferno for all that Hope is worth:
Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here