by Judith Curry
“I chose the…title largely in reaction to the sanctimonious tone employed by so many of those who advocate substantial and and costly responses to what they see as irrefutable evidence that the world’s climate faces catastrophe…To them the cause has become a substitute religion.” – John Howard
John Howard’s GWPF Lecture
The Honourable John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia, gave the Annual GWPF Lecture in London on Nov 5. The title of his lecture was One Religion is Enough, and full text is available from the GWPF. Excerpts:
I chose the lecture’s title largely in reaction to the sanctimonious tone employed by so many of those who advocate quite substantial, and costly, responses to what they see as irrefutable evidence that the world’s climate faces catastrophe, against people who do not share their view. To them the cause has become a substitute religion.
Increasingly offensive language is used. The most egregious example has been the term “denier”. We are all aware of the particular meaning that word has acquired in contemporary parlance. It has been employed in this debate with some malice aforethought.
An overriding feature of the debate is the constant attempt to intimidate policy makers, in some cases successfully, with the mantras of “follow the science” and “the science is truly settled”. The purpose is to create the impression that there is really no room for argument; this is not really a public policy issue; it is one on which the experts have spoken, and we would all be quite daft to do other than follow the prescriptions, it is asserted, which flow automatically from the scientific findings.
Writing recently in Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Dr Richard S. Lindzen, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of those with political agendas who found it useful to employ science, “This immediately involves a distortion of science at a very basic level: namely science becomes a source of authority rather than a mode of inquiry. The real utility of science stems from the latter; the political utility stems from the former.”
It is a proven technique. It is behind the expression I am sure you have heard that something is “above politics” or “too important to be left to the politicians”, with politicians themselves sometimes being the worst culprits of all in advocating that decisions they should make are in fact determined by others. Politicians who bemoan the loss of respect for their calling should remember that every time they allow themselves to be browbeaten by the alleged views of experts they contribute further to that loss of respect.
Scientists are experts in science. Judges are experts in interpreting the law and doctors are skilled at keeping us healthy-provided we take their advice. But parliaments –composed of elected politicians are the experts at public policy making, and neither expressly or impliedly should they ever surrender that role to others.
In the past five years, the dynamic of the global warming debate has shifted away from exaggerated acceptance of the worst possible implications of what a majority of climate scientists tell us, towards a more balanced, and questioning approach.
The flood of emails coming from the University of East Anglia, the admitted errors regarding the Himalayan Glaciers, as well as the nakedly political agendas of some of those allegedly giving impartial scientific advice have degraded the image of the IPCC as the unchallengeable body of scientific experts on global warming.
I have always been something of an agnostic on global warming. I have never rejected, totally, the multiple expressions of concern from many eminent scientists, but the history of mankind has told me of his infinite capacity to adapt to the changing circumstances of the environment in which he lives.
My suspicion is that most people in countries like ours have settled into a state of sustained agnosticism on the issue. Of course the climate is changing. It always has. There are mixed views not only about how sustained that warming is – seemingly it has not warmed for the last 15 years, and also the relative contributions of mankind and natural causes. The views are anything but mixed about the soaring cost of electricity bills, with a growing consciousness that large subsidies are being paid for the production of renewable energy, with this having an increasingly heavy burden on low income earners.
Where are we left in this debate? From this agnostic’s viewpoint some broad conclusions can be drawn.
1. First principles tell us never to accept that all of the science is in on any proposition; always remain open to the relevance of new research.
2. Keep a sense of proportion, especially when it comes to generational burden-sharing.
3. Renewable energy sources should always be used when it makes economic sense to do so. The less that governments intervene the more likely it is that this will happen.
4. Nuclear energy must be part of the long term response. It is a clean energy source, has the capacity to provide base load power as an alternative to fossil fuel, and modern nuclear power stations have a sophisticated level of safety.
5. Always bear in mind that technology will continue to surprise us. I doubt that the expression “fracking” was widely known, let alone used five years ago.
The Economist has a response to Howard’s talk, titled: Global Warming and Religion: Faith Upon the Earth. This essay is on the Economists’s Erasmus Blog, which considers the intersections between religion and public policy. Excerpts:
THE WORD “religion” is often used, rather effectively, to demonise a category of people who hold a strong conviction about something and propose to translate that belief into action. “Global warming is a new religion and blasphemy against that religion is not a laughing matter,” Lord Lawson has said, adding that “there is a great gap in Europe with the decline of any real belief in Marxism and any real belief in Christianity. This has filled the vacuum.”
Before making any comment on this variety of scepticism, I should declare an interest. Over the past decade, I have participated in many conferences and symposia that explored the link between faith and the environment, in places ranging from Brazil to Greenland to New Orleans. So I’m familiar with most of the standard arguments in this area. There are many different points on the spectrum. As well as green-minded people of faith, there are greens who hate religion, arguing that the anthropocentric bias of the Christian West has made humanity indifferent to other living things; and there are religious people, including some evangelicals, who scorn environmentalism as neo-paganism.
Well, perhaps such people exist; prigs and bullies can be found on almost any side of any dispute. But at their best, religion and environmentalism interconnect in a much more positive way. Both invite people to think far beyond the particular physical space and moment in time which they happen to occupy. Both encourage virtues such as caution and self-restraint in the face of uncertainty—values which are absent from most political discourse, and are hard to fit into any electoral cycle. Traditional societies used to have rites and beliefs which affirmed a sense of connectedness with past generations and responsibility for future generations; such a sense is absent from the short-term calculus of secular politics and economics. Lord Lawson may be quite right to say that the decline of Marxism and organised Christianity has pushed people towards concern for the planet. But that doesn’t mean the concern is foolish.
- Understanding Conservative Religious Resistance to Climate Science - guest post by David Gushee
- Evangelicals and Environmentalism
- Is there any good news for the environment among Evangelicals? - guest post by Ken Wilson
The following statement in the Economist article bears repeating: But at their best, religion and environmentalism interconnect in a much more positive way. The Creation Care movement among Evangelicals is a good example of this.
In context of the current status of the CAGW-policy debate, moral arguments seem to be in ascendancy as the scientific argument seems to be weakening. Climate change is a complex moral and political issue; thinking that science and scientism holds the answers is unfortunate dogma and ideology among too many scientists.
And finally, Lindzen’s statement bears repeating, a statement that is wholly consistent with my own statements on the Subterranean War on Science:
“This immediately involves a distortion of science at a very basic level: namely science becomes a source of authority rather than a mode of inquiry. The real utility of science stems from the latter; the political utility stems from the former.”