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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man

A fortnightly column on technology on the web

31 July 2010

12:00 AM

31 July 2010

12:00 AM

At first glance the climate change debate is simple: you either believe the doom-mongers or you don’t. Soon, however, other questions arise. Is the world warming up or not? If so, is this warming anthropogenic or the result of a natural cycle? If greenhouse gases are indeed to blame, do we reduce emissions now or leave our children to deal with the consequences? Do we trust more to legislation or technological progress? And is the whole thing a whopping great lie?

The Delingpolian view that the whole thing is one great big con might still be right. There are plenty of people who have an ulterior motive in spreading fear. Governments love citing market failures as an excuse to intervene. Print journalists like to disparage the free markets which caused their own earnings to plummet while thicker contemporaries became rich from dubious banking practices. Academics and students get to pretend they are riding bicycles through choice rather than necessity. It is, in short, a wonderful opportunity to attack capitalism for anyone who feels ill-served by it. Within business, too, the sustainability movement is sometimes self-interested, giving people new reasons to justify their employment, with new conferences to attend. There are even billionaires eager to adopt a more austere existence to distinguish themselves from the arriviste oligarch next door. It’s a rare kind of person who looks at the modern world and wants to leave it alone.


So to the questions at the top, I now add one more. If this is a big lie, is it a good one? In other words, might we be better off believing the warnings, even if they are false? Plenty of people since Plato have believed society needs a good myth to sustain it. And even atheists accept religion has its upside.

In a few areas, I might happily join in the deception. I like the idea of working from home more and of commuting less. I would also love to use an environmental excuse to restrict tourist visits to London (in London it is tourists, not immigrants, who should be admitted via a points system). Lastly, I wonder if, by acquiescing in this ‘noble lie’, we might end up with some residential architecture in Britain that is pleasant to look at. You see, even if you don’t care a damn about all that insulation, eco-houses look great.

Unusually, I don’t care whether all future buildings in Britain are designed by the Prince of Wales or by the wildest members of the RIBA. Geodesic domes would be far better than the dross built at the moment, with silly ‘detached’ houses separated only by a foot of air. A few years ago I thought of taking a holiday in Denmark or Sweden and, in looking at places to rent, my first surprise was finding you didn’t have to reject 80 per cent of properties on grounds of sheer hideousness. In Scotland, Wales and Ireland the figure is even higher, since the Celts’ vision of an ideal retirement is to find a perfect lake somewhere and then spend their last decades looking at it through a vast picture window set in a peculiarly nasty bungalow.

Perhaps right-wing people can learn to like environmentalism the way left-wing people learn to like Wagner — by separating the outcome from the motivation.


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