Contemporary apocalyptic fashionable undertones in the area of Climate Change are pointing us away from Democracy, the power of The People, and towards Deimocracy, the power of Fear.
(1) Disaster Talking
We are showered with news of doom: AIDS and SARS epidemics, Terrorisms and Wars on Terror, Overpopulation, Immigrants in hordes, Global Warming: calamities ultimately “explained” as of our own making
It will be news, a day without news of species candidate for extinction, the planet destined to burn up, and our lifestyles destroyed by al-Qaeda or a virus, because we are not enough green, and/or not energy savers, and/or virtuous
That’s the zeitgeist, the Spirit of (Our) Time for Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, forecasting floods, droughts, hurricanes, cold and heath-waves, hunger and misery (locusts included) to governments and individuals, whose culpable inertia is apparently enriching Big Bad Oil Corporations while sullying the Earth
It is a “language of disaster” that belongs also to:
- Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist reporting only the scariest predictions
- Tim Flannery, the Australian of the Year 2007, a scientist who believes that coal-burning will bring humanity to an end
- Jared Diamond, the former-skeptic now converted to Paul Ehrlich’s unflinching pessimism to accuse the enslaved, decimated inhabitants of Easter Island of consumerism and ecocide; and to many more
Is it really necessary to force people to “duck” under ever more monstrous Terrors to protect the environment from technological growth, ourselves from terrorism, our species from overpopulation?
Since when has Fear become the only instrument of persuasion?
Is this because a “stupid electorate” is easily manipulated by the titillation of tragedy and disaster, or perhaps even by the millenarian attitude that permeated as expected the end of the last Millennium (Nostradamus prophecies, Y2K, etc.)?
But then, Democracy itself would be alien or absurd
Or is this because reaction can be elicited by hitting us hard before problems do?
That means considering our species to be “Homo Insanus”, not “Homo Sapiens”, “wise man”. Given the choice, it sounds definitely better to entrust us then to the “Politics of the Day After”, chasing the front pages of newspapers (standard practice for more than one politician…)
Actually, the suspicion is that this “Empowerment of Fear Itself” otherwise called Deimocracy (from the Greek: deimos “terror, dread”) is a way to propel new forms of social engineering by inoculating us with the idea that in such dire straits, our only hope to survive cataclysmic planetary changes is to accept exceptional, anti-freedom measures
Al Gore’s solution is for “leaders” to corral unwilling voters, whatever their opinion, into accepting coercive measures.
Sir Nicholas Stern in the meanwhile came up with yet another gloomy report, telling in no uncertain terms to spend some 20 billions today not to have to spend 200 billions or more in 100 or 150 years’ time (never mind the dubiously low discount rate and the continuous need to “explain” and “clarify” that he wasn’t talking about our lifetimes)
In a society where “science” and now “economics” foretell our future, we are told to follow their recommendations… or else!
The UK’s Royal Society recently reprimanded evil Exxon, guilty of financing “anti-environmentalist lobbies” belittling the risks of Climate Change (actually: some associations publicly saying that Climate Change will not happen, or will not be catastrophic)
The fallacy of judging anybody not following the Global Warming line as “anti-environmentalist” shows the Royal Society as less eager of defending Science against manipulation, than of taking Climate Change as an article of faith
(3) Global Warming as a new Religion
Millenarian Global Warming is indeed assuming the character of a cult, as repeatedly pointed out by Michael Crichton.
British newspaper The Guardian’s editorialist George Monbiot writes that (on Climate Change), “He (Monbiot) Is Watching Us”. Margo Kingston remarks on the Australian Daily Briefing that those Global Warming “deniers” are guilty of a Crime against Humanity. Others have suggested a Nuremberg-style trial.
If we do not stop to produce carbon dioxide within ten years, the world will be gone, some say. Others tell sinners that without repentance, they will not be among the 144 thousand saved in the Apocalypse. Spot the difference.
And in a Market of the Indulgences Al Gore pays to plant trees to compensate for the jet-setting he undertakes to instruct us… to fly less! (Is it time for SUV owners to grow trees on the bonnet?)
(4) Skepticism: the Root of Science
Mystical visions of doom are obviously not on par level with forecasts by obviously bright intellects such Hansen’s and Flannery’s. And yet, one can be just as seriously skeptical of their conclusions, in the ways of Carl Sagan: extraordinary claims of catastrophes must be backed by extraordinary evidence
Science is indeed a collection of “theories”, models of reality as objective and as complete as possible. The task of the scientist is to (boringly) expand on such models or to (Nobel-prize-winningly) refute them and put forward new, more precise models.
Truly there is no such a thing as “democratic science”, weighing the number of papers going in different directions. It is instead like a boiling ocean where competing models fight to reach the surface through the grinding by mechanisms such as “peer review” by experts (usually without authors’ names to avoid “subjective” interference, e.g. of “bad blood”)
Nonetheless, the infrastructure of Science feeds on reputation. No editor of scientific publication, no manager of research fund will want to look gullible: it is then obviously more difficult to publish anything against the “current consensus”, and easier to receive funds to repeat established experiments
With Science pushed and pulled in incompatible directions, the scientific debate cannot be closed: otherwise, it is not scientific. And its infinite detail will never be fully shown in scientific publications or accompanying press releases
(5) From Science to Politics
In politics the situation is radically different. Politics can not simply abandon one model for another, to “try out” something else. Social effects are not negligible, and it will be difficult to carry along the electorate at every turn: impressions, however subjective they may be, do count.
Translating Science into Politics therefore creates four problems: Technicism; Manipulation; Inaction and Causal Monomania
Technicism is the misinterpretation of scientific research as the “end word” on a topic: like eugenics, fashionable and admired cause of several million human deaths
In Manipulation, politicians pick and choose the most convenient scientific results: as in the 1920 US’s immigration policies discriminating against Southern Europeans for scientific, unassailable reasons (alleged inferior IQs)
Inaction is when Governments do nothing against clear forecasts by scientists and engineers. Just as predicted by many experts, New Orleans’ badly-financed and badly-constructed levees, built to withstand the direct hit of a category-3 hurricane, failed even if category-3 Katrina actually missed the city
Finally, in Causal Monomania an issue is fogged by explaining everything with a single reason: Global Warming, of course, where catastrophist propaganda couples with alarmist Deimocracy to deny political space to all opponents: whilst in the scientific arena, almost every work is bound to “rediscover” the same thing: how bad we are, and how bad Climate Change is going to be
In Al Gore’s movie, glaciers retreat, floods devastate, the natural world dies: all of that, because of Global Warming.
There is no “smoking gun” available, no hurricane called “Climate Change”: yet, this fact is not important because, in the subculture of Global Warming, every atmospheric phenomenon is obviously caused by our misbehavior
Read this recent quote from “Cultural responses to aridity in the Middle Holocene and increased social complexity” (Nick Brooks, Quaternary International 151 (2006) 29-49):
In today’s globalizing world, traditional livelihoods are under pressure from economic liberalization, monetization of local economies and development programmes based largely on western models.
Words of truth perhaps but… they can relate to social complexity and aridity in the Middle Holocene only for people that consider contemporary Climate Change induced by human activity as an all-encompassing Monster, the root of every trouble, to be stopped also by means of disseminating irrelevant, yet negative and unrelenting mentions of it
Compare that effort to the lukewarm attitude towards preventing the one disaster that will occur with absolute certainty: our planet being hit by a small asteroid or comet
(6) Climate Change and Propaganda
Climate Change monomania details upcoming destructions to restrict individuals’ freedoms. Moreover, it is a propaganda device for politicians to hide their shortcomings
If every problem derives from Climate Change, and all effective solutions are global, what can we ever pretend from a single Nation?
Take Australia, experiencing its n-th consecutive year of “drought” (presented of course as a sign of Climate Change): and yet, during Sydney’s rainy September ‘06, local newspapers debated the absence of adequate facilities to collect rainwater. Never mind the subsidies received by farmers despite the obvious unsuitability of their farms.
And never mind the fact that Dorothea Mackellar could remember Australia as the “sunburnt country [...] of droughts and flooding rains“…in 1904!
What is the real issue: “Climate Change” or “Incompetence”? Shall we really revolutionize our lifestyles and spend billions to stop emitting CO2, in order to save the Australian Government (or any other) from their own ineptitude?
(7) The End of Environmentalism?
A bigger danger exists. What if the foretold disasters fail to happen? Politicians will not be able to justify themselves by “passing the buck” to the scientists.
If the political debate could be encapsulated by the scientific discourse, we would just accept a Technocracy (again, renouncing Democracy): an untenable solution as the idea that professionals, experts, scientists do make mistakes is part of popular mythology
Large communication problems exist between Science and the non-scientific public. Actually, by putting themselves in-between scientists and the general population, catastrophists are risking to prevent the public from properly perceiving the real threats and risks
When too many a prediction will fail, people will wrongly but understandably start to think that rhinos are not in extinction danger; that there are many Siberian tigers around; and that pollution running amok is no problem.
Fear-mongering Environmentalism may indeed be sanctioning the End of Environmentalism (a point recently made by no less a commentator than Nicholas D Kristof of the New York Times)
(8) Defending the Environment – Take Two
A serious environmentalist debate must rise above simplistic policies and propaganda. Many are the priorities to handle, and difficult to manage: there is no solution in monomaniac pseudo-scientific Deimocratic shortcuts
Meaningful environment conservation is something less sexy and un-titillating, pivoted around analyses and counter-analyses of our ideals, objectives and priorities, in a system where scientific research is analyzed within its context, before being applied in the political field.
It is based on defining objectives as solution to problems, not just as desperate resorts against the End of the World
Are houses cleaned because it is the right thing to do, or just since otherwise people could be at risk of SARS or the Black Plague?
Are Human Rights to be protected for their intrinsic value, or only if and when the alternative is Genocide?
Shouldn’t oil be better employed to build plastics than burned for heating and transportation with accompanying toxic fumes?
Of course: and not just to avoid droughts, fires and a one-way trip to the Gehenna…
(9) Rejecting Deimocracy
Gore, Hansen and the others may even be right on the subject of Global Warming: however, their methods of propaganda and political action must be rejected in principle.
The real risk is to accept the worst of all possible worlds, where Science is contaminated by ideology and Politics stifles debate, with little freedom and scarce if any analysis of priorities.
Will one day somebody coin the slogan “Breath less, Emanate less carbon dioxide”?
Let’s be free instead: Long Live Democracy!
And let’s firmly distance ourselves from the “Politics of Fright”. Down with Deimocracy!