By that I mean, has climate hysteria finally been defeated, and will it be replaced by sensible, rational, evidence-based policies for dealing with changes in the climate, or any other natural process which may or may not be caused by human activity?
Richard’s article two weeks ago based on an article by Jason Bordoff, suggested a reason for optimism. Bordoff’s article represents the opinion of a climate believer who recognises that something bigger has come along. Like someone standing on the beach worrying about sea level rise suddenly spotting a Tsunami. In this article I’ll examine the question in more detail, and attempt to enlarge the field of discussion.
Of course, “we” science-respecting climate sceptics haven’t “won” anything. All that’s happened so far is that one mass hysteria has been displaced by another. Whereas climate hysteria was slow moving, hypothetical, and largely invisible in its effects, virus hysteria has a basis in reality that is obvious to all. But there are many other differences, and they need sorting out. Here are some:
1. The speed and urgency of the corona crisis has revealed a number of things:
1.1 Mathematical modelling is not an exact science. Even the Guardian has admitted as much. The era when climate modellers could announce projections for average global temperatures for the end of the century to a tenth of a degree (and be believed) are over.
1.2 It costs trillions to fix a global emergency, and trillions spent on fixing a crisis are trillions not spent on something more fun or life-enhancing. The days when climate worriers could announce that spending trillions plastering the countryside with solar panels would make us happier, create jobs and therefore be good for the economy are over (probably.)
1.3 Vast societal change (for good or ill) causes suffering.
1.31 The causal links between political action and political popularity (vital in a democracy in the medium term for continuity of action) are anything but clear. (See John’s article on causation and meditate deeply.)
2. There is massive disagreement between experts on the nature of the corona virus crisis, its seriousness, and the proper political, medical and social response. This can be oversimplified and described as a debate between, on the one hand, a scientific establishment, represented by chief scientific medical officers and scientific advisers advising massive lockdowns and a halt to normal economic activity while solutions are found via the established methods; and on the other hand a number (a very large number) of specialists (epidemiologists, statisticians, etc.) who appear as mavericks, proposing unorthodox treatments and/or the acceptance of the inevitability of large numbers of fatalities, in the greater interest of society as whole (avoiding economic collapse and the ensuing social disorder, poverty, suicides etc.) Orthodox economists and other non-medical experts (criminologists, sociologists) may find themselves supporting the unorthodox, maverick side, for obvious reasons.
2.1 The above very rough description of the “sides” in the debate reveals enormous differences between the corona virus debate and the climate one. There are large numbers of experts who reject utterly the current political and social response to the pandemic. See this site for a daily update on the counter-consensual views of numerous experts. I have no idea whether they are right or wrong. I simply record the fact that they exist.
The days when supporters of climate action could talk about a “scientific consensus” are over.
2.2 The “sceptics” in the case of this pandemic are disparate in their expertise, but united in their belief that governments must look beyond simply “saving the health service” and avoiding the terrible images of old people being left to die for lack of health care, and consider the bigger economic and social picture. Their criticisms converge around this single observation: concentrating on the one single aim of reducing the number of immediate deaths from the virus may provoke a worse problem arising from economic and eventually social collapse. They argue for looking at the big picture beyond the immediate crisis.
2.3 Climate sceptics, on the other hand, accuse the consensus of being obsessed by a “big picture” that exists only in the future, and possibly in their imaginations and models. They have many, many different objections, from criticism of the data collection, the quality of the science, the projections, the politicisation of science, the insistence on mitigation rather than adaptation, to the propaganda and censorship in the public presentation in academia and the media.
2.4 The “virus sceptics,” it seems to me, hold a position that is irreconcilable with the mainstream view. Anyone can have a differing opinion on this or that detail of the lockdown, but their position is strategically opposed to the current political consensus. The division is binary. We shall know within a matter of months or a year or two who is right and who is wrong.
Climate sceptics, on the other hand, as different as Lindzen, Lomborg, Pielke, Lawson, or you and me, hold positions that overlap largely with the consensus view. Of course greenhouse gasses may cause temperatures to rise, and of course that may be problematic here or there (and possibly beneficial elsewhere.) Of course we can and should do things to improve air quality etc. “Climate denial” is largely a propaganda myth invented by the consensus enforcers. And of course, we shall never be able to establish objectively who is right, because of the time scale involved, and because the dream of zero carbon and a peaceful reversion to living in a concrete-and-steel-less Rupert Bearland is an absurd fantasy.
3. The world has changed immeasurably in the 3-4 decades since Catastrophic Climate Change became a Thing. The political effects of this pandemic are utterly unknowable. And I don’t mean “this changes everything,” “things will never be the same”and similar banalities. We don’t know whether things will be the same, or not. Politicians from Trump to Macron have seen their popularity rise. That could be reversed tomorrow by one false move, one tragedy that tickles the media’s fancy.
3.1 Behind these surface ripples are the profound changes in the politics of the West that go by the name of “populism” and its largely unacknowledged prime cause, which is the massive growth of inequality in wealth and income over a half a century of relative peace and prosperity. (I hope to tackle this in a separate article.)
3.2 And that’s just the rich, democratic tenth of the world. Add in China, Russia, India, and Africa, where practically no-one in our dear academia has a clue what’s going on, and you have a subject that would keep our intelligentsia busy for decades, if they weren’t so occupied with climate, gender, and the iniquities of Trump.
3.3 Catastrophic Climate Belief is a movement that for thirty years has been feathering its niche in the world-up-to-now. It will do everything to preserve that niche as the world changes in unpredictable ways, and we sceptics are uniquely well-placed to stop them.
4. There has been no rush from the climate establishment to link the pandemic to climate change. There’s been the Pope of course, but how many General Circulation Models does he have? Otherwise, I have seen no attempt by climate zealots to jump the pangolin and make climate change responsible.
4.1 No-one has explained why COP26 can’t proceed by video conference, seeing that the world’s future hangs on their decisions. Maybe all those indigenous delegates dressed in feathers and the members of the International Potato Council in their skins don’t do Skype?
4.2 Climate Believers find themselves caught in a dilemma: on the one hand, their strategy in promoting the largely imaginary climate crisis has been to capture the levers of power via international organisations, politicians in search of a cost-free (to them) ideology, a lazy media and the nonsense of a scientific consensus. They have established an official dogma, and are committed to defending it On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the official position on reaction to the pandemic (it’s too soon to characterise it as a dogma) is the correct one. Politicians are in the main lucid enough to acknowledge the need to change their tactics if they prove to be mistaken, when the lives of their electors are clearly at stake. Will they also change their minds when climate change is no longer useful electorally?
4.3 With the virus there are real costs, real dangers, and real risks to politicians and others who take up entrenched positions, because the scientific consensus isn’t there, and any assertion of superior expertise is likely to be contradicted by events within weeks or even days. The same Guardian health editor who points out that mathematical models have hopelessly wide margins of error, in a separate article, faithfully reproduces the prediction from the same model that deaths in the UK will peak 2,932 on 17th of April. We shall know soon enough whether she’s right or whether she’s right.
4.4 Whatever policy is adopted, and whatever the results in terms of infections and mortality, there is likely to be massive social unrest, together with huge swings in public opinion, and climate zealots will no doubt be tempted to take advantage of this to further the radical changes they see as necessary to obtaining their ends. On the other hand, there is a huge risk in being seen to profit from a tragic situation. Hence the great reticence of the climate establishment to take up a position.
4.5 Mainstream media are only as strong as their advertising revenue, and green blogs and think tanks are only as strong as their funding from the EU NGO charity soup kitchen and private foundations. When the pandemic hits Africa, how much will the Lady Bountifuls have to spare for the men in suits in the think tanks and the activists blocking empty streets? The Guardian’s climate change is already running a questionnaire asking: Did you take part in Extinction Rebellion’s climate campaign? Get in touch as if saving the planet is already ancient history.
5. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from Andy West’s many forceful comments here, it is that this situation can’t last. Culture abhors a vacuum, and a movement as massive and motivated as the climate bandwagon is sure to come up with a cunning plan or three to demonstrate that climate action is more necessary than ever. How the public, the media and the politicians react when they do is anybody’s guess. I suggest we start guessing now.
This thread is for doing that guessing – and second guessing.