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A wicked orthodoxy

Global-warming alarmism has become a substitute religion, attended by   all the intolerant zealotry that has so often marred religion in the past

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

There is something odd about the global warming debate — or the climate change debate, as we are now expected to call it, since global warming has for the time being come to a halt.

I have never shied away from controversy, nor — for example, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Thatcher years — worried about being unpopular if I believed that what I was saying and doing was in the public interest.

But I have never in my life experienced the extremes of personal hostility, vituperation and vilification which I — along with other dissenters, of course — have received for my views on global warming and global warming policies.

For example, according to the UK Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, the global warming dissenters are, without exception, ‘wilfully ignorant’ and in the view of the Prince of Wales we are ‘headless chickens’. Not that ‘dissenter’ is a term they use. We are regularly referred to as ‘climate change deniers’, a phrase deliberately designed to echo ‘Holocaust denier’ — as if questioning present policies and forecasts of the future is equivalent to casting malign doubt about a historical fact.

The heir to the throne and the minister are senior public figures, who watch their language. The abuse I received after appearing on the BBC’s Today programme — akin to the ABC’s AM programme — last February was far less restrained. Both the BBC and I received an orchestrated barrage of complaints to the effect that it was an outrage that I was allowed to discuss the issue on the programme at all. And even the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons shamefully joined the chorus of those who seek to suppress debate.

In fact, despite having written a thoroughly documented book about global warming more than five years ago, which happily became something of a bestseller, and having founded a think tank on the subject — the Global Warming Policy Foundation — the following year, and despite frequently being invited on Today to discuss economic issues, this was the first time I had ever been asked to discuss climate change. I strongly suspect it will also be the last time.

The BBC received a well-organised deluge of complaints — some of them, inevitably, from those with a vested interest in renewable energy — accusing me, among other things, of being a geriatric retired politician and not a climate scientist, and so wholly unqualified to discuss the issue.

But at bottom this is not a scientific issue. That is to say, the issue is not climate change but climate change alarmism, and the hugely damaging policies that are advocated, and in some cases put in place, in its name. And alarmism is a feature not of the physical world, which is what climate scientists study, but of human behaviour; the province, in other words, of economists, historians, sociologists, psychologists and — dare I say it — politicians.

And en passant, the problem for dissenting politicians, and indeed for dissenting climate scientists for that matter, who certainly exist, is that dissent can be career-threatening. The advantage of being geriatric is that my career is behind me: there is nothing left to threaten.

The climate changes all the time, in different and unpredictable (certainly unpredicted) ways, and indeed often in different ways in different parts of the world. It always has done and no doubt it always will. The issue is whether that is a cause for alarm — and not just moderate alarm. According to the alarmists it is the greatest threat facing humankind today: far worse than any of the manifold evils we see around the globe which stem from what Robert Burns called ‘man’s inhumanity to man’.

It is relevant to note that there is an important distinction between science and scientists. I have the greatest respect for science, whose development has transformed the world for the better. But scientists are no better and no worse than anyone else. There are good scientists and there are bad scientists. Many scientists are outstanding people working long hours to produce important results. They must be frustrated that political activists then turn those results into propaganda. Yet they dare not speak out for fear of losing their funding.

Indeed, a case can be made for the proposition that today’s climate science establishment is betraying science itself. During the period justly known as the Enlightenment, science achieved the breakthroughs which have so benefited us all by rejecting the claims of authority — which at that time largely meant the authority of the church — and adopting an overarching scepticism, insisting that our understanding of the external world must be based exclusively on observation and empirical investigation. Yet today all too many climate scientists, in particular in the UK, come close to claiming that they need to be respected as the voice of authority on the subject — the very claim that was once the province of the church.

How is it that much of the western world has succumbed to the self-harming collective madness that is climate change orthodoxy? It is difficult to escape the conclusion that climate change orthodoxy has in effect become a substitute religion, attended by all the intolerant zealotry that has so often marred religion in the past, and in some places still does so today.

Throughout the western world, the two creeds that used to vie for popular support, Christianity and the atheistic belief system of Communism, are each clearly in decline. Yet people still feel the need both for the comfort and for the transcendent values that religion can provide. It is the quasi-religion of green alarmism and global salvationism, of which the climate change dogma is the prime example, which has filled the vacuum, with reasoned questioning of its mantras regarded as little short of sacrilege.

The parallel goes deeper. Throughout the ages the weather has been an important part of the religious narrative. In primitive societies it was customary for extreme weather events to be explained as punishment from the gods for the sins of the people; and there is no shortage of this theme in the Bible, either — particularly, but not exclusively, in the Old Testament. The contemporary version of this is that, as a result of heedless industrialisation within a framework of materialistic capitalism, we have directly (albeit not deliberately) perverted the weather, and will duly receive our comeuppance.

There is another aspect, too, which may account for the appeal of this so-called explanation. Throughout the ages, something deep in man’s psyche has made him receptive to apocalyptic warnings that the end of the world is nigh. And almost all of us, whether we like it or not, are imbued with feelings of guilt and a sense of sin. How much less uncomfortable it is, how much more convenient, to divert attention away from our individual sins and reasons to feel guilty, and to sublimate them in collective guilt and collective sin.

Why does this matter? It matters, and matters a great deal, on two quite separate grounds. The first is that it has gone a long way towards ushering in a new age of unreason. It is a cruel irony that, while it was science which, more than anything else, was able by its great achievements, to establish the age of reason, it is all too many climate scientists and their hangers-on who have become the high priests of a new age of unreason.

But what moves me most is that the policies invoked in its name are grossly immoral. We have, in the UK, devised the most blatant transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich — and I am slightly surprised that it is so strongly supported by those who consider themselves to be the tribunes of the people and politically on the Left. I refer to our system of heavily subsidising wealthy landlords to have wind farms on their land, so that the poor can be supplied with one of the most expensive forms of electricity known to man.

This is also, of course, inflicting increasing damage on the British economy, to no useful purpose whatever. More serious morally, because it is on a much larger scale, is the perverse intergenerational transfer of wealth implied by orthodox climate change policies. It is not much in dispute that future generations — those yet unborn — will be far wealthier than those — ourselves, our children and for many of us our grandchildren — alive today. This is the inevitable consequence of the projected economic growth which, on a ‘business as usual’ basis, drives the increased carbon emissions which in turn determine the projected future warming. It is surely perverse that those alive today should be told that they must impoverish themselves, by abandoning what is far and away the cheapest source of energy, in order to ensure that those yet to be born, who will in any case be signally better off than they are, will be better off still, by escaping the disadvantages of any warming that might occur.

However, the greatest immorality of all concerns the masses in the developing world. It is excellent that, in so many parts of the developing world — the so-called emerging economies — economic growth is now firmly on the march, as they belatedly put in place the sort of economic policy framework that brought prosperity to the western world. Inevitably, they already account for, and will increasingly account for, the lion’s share of global carbon emissions.

But, despite their success, there are still hundreds of millions of people in these countries in dire poverty, suffering all the ills that this brings, in terms of malnutrition, preventable disease and premature death. Asking these countries to abandon the cheapest available sources of energy is, at the very least, asking them to delay the conquest of malnutrition, to perpetuate the incidence of preventable disease and to increase the numbers of premature deaths.

Global warming orthodoxy is not merely irrational. It is wicked.

Nigel Lawson, a former editor of The Spectator and Chancellor of the Exchequer, is chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. A longer version appears in the May issue of Standpoint magazine:

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