Monthly Archives: June 2012

The twin evils of religion and environmentalism

There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents….

Or in more secular terms, isn’t it nice when someone finally sees the light.

It has been interesting watching the scales fall from the eyes of James Lovelock recently, as he has finally started to echo what many of us have been saying for several years. That a lot of the stuff we hear from greens is just a pathetic liberal secular substitute for Christianity; that a great deal of the global warming or climate change hysteria fits neatly into the same category as religious fanaticism, with little more scientific credibility, and that many of the models and predictions derived from them are mere scientific trash, the same harnessing of human emotions of guilt and the desperate need to be seen to be good. I am particularly amused since some environmentalist a while back tried to dismiss my blog because I was saying exactly that but I wasn’t Lovelock, therefore I was wrong, or some argument along those lines anyway. But it’s nice to see him catching up (yes, OK,  I know he is far smarter than me, so no need to point it out, but none of us is infallible and he did get some things wrong). We all make mistakes, and at least he has had the guts to admit it, unlike a lot of people, so all credit to him. He is just the latest in a long queue of people jumping the fence as green dogma and climate hysteria  is being exposed as nonsense.

It has been clear to me for over 15 years that the decline of religion wasn’t simply leaving people with no religion, but had left a hole in people’s lives that was being filled by 21st century piety, a basket of isms, such as environmentalism and vegetarianism, anti-capitalism, even socialism and liberalism. For very many people, these hit the same reward centre buttons as religion. I first lectured about their religion substitution appeal at a World Futures Society conference well over a decade ago, and have often got into professional trouble by repeating the same arguments ever since. (Actually, I don’t think there is anything wrong with vegetarianism per se, just the daft attitude that you have to cook them veggie stuff, but they don’t have to cook you meat, because they are obviously better than you and it would offend their obviously higher moral stance. That is the pathetic religion substitute bit, and I have zero tolerance of it).

Let me be quite clear here, to minimise offence to the innocent: not all environmentalist are seeking a religion substitute, where they can place themselves on a high moral pedestal and preach at everyone else. They don’t all think they are ‘holier than thou’. Not all are far more interested in their own sanctification than protecting the environment.

Actually, a great many environmentalists care deeply for the environment. Some are excellent scientists doing excellent and unbiased work, and achieving excellent results, and I am sure many of those are sick and tired of having their field wrecked by the bad apples, and their credibility undermined by the distortions or incompetence of others – it is all to easy to tar everyone with the same brush and i don’t want to do that. Many have the highest regard for the principles of science and want to use it to understand the environment so that they can protect it better. Just like you and me, I hope.

However, there are some bad apples, some deliberately distorting the truth, hiding declines, making sure other scientists can’t get papers printed, reducing historic temperatures to pretend rises are higher than they are, or using dubious statistical techniques on cherry picked data to make ridiculously inaccurate graphs. Others are merely incompetent, ignoring major contributing factors in their climate models. Some try to use distorted science to further programs such as social equalisation that have nothing to do with the environment, and some advocate policies that actually harm the environment. Some mix all of the above. The reason all too often seems to be the religious appeal. Worse, liberals, vegetarians and greens don’t like being told they’re wrong and certainly not being accused of being religious, even when it is blindingly obvious to others, and some use pretty underhand combat techniques as a substitute for decent arguments.

We often hear debates about the pros and cons of religion, how it may cause wars or homophobia or racism or whatever, and some of the criticisms are justified. However, on other hand there are the benefits of love and peace and caring for one another that also typically go with religion when it is exercised properly. In environmentalism, we see the desire to protect the environment as the superficial driver, and no-one can argue with that as a motivation, but meaning well doesn’t translate into a good outcome if your motives are then mixed with others, corrupted and polluted and then directed with little more intelligence than superstition and wishful thinking. Actual outcomes from environmentalism are all too often damaging. That is why environmentalism is now becoming just as corrupted as the Christian church once was, and why it can be argued that it is doing more harm than good. The environment may well be better off if we locked up all the environmentalists, or the greens anyway.

Although there were quite a few rubbish reports by others before it, the Stern Review was the first really important paper that drove environmental policies that resulted in great harm to the environment: inadvertently encouraging draining of peat bogs and chopping of rain forests to make room for palm oil plantations, thereby releasing huge quantities of CO2; the financial incentives of carbon trading mixed with inevitable and entirely predictable corruption forcing eviction of countless families in Africa; starvation of many people because of globally increased food prices because of the diversion of agricultural land being used to grow crops for biofuel conversion. I am certain that results like this weren’t Stern’s intention, he seems a decent enough chap, but a decent economist should be able to make the most basic and obvious predictions about how people might behave when faced with financial incentives – greed is hardly a 21st century invention – so his report must take some of the blame.

But Stern’s review can’t take all the blame for everything; there has since been a long stream of nonsense from the IPCC, politicians, parts of the media and a wide selection of climate research labs and environmental NGOs. Recently, it has been demonstrated that climate models are often less accurate than a purely random extrapolation. A garden snail would be better at it, literally. Hansen’s predictions have been laughable, as have those of our own MET office. All the research funding has been wasted on them. Religion may make you feel holy, but it really isn’t much use as a predictive tool. Some excellent work is being done on the actual extent and causes of climate change, but it is very often by those dismissed as heretics by the climate change church.

Since politicians grabbed the Stern review as a rare excuse to increase both taxes and their own popularity, politicisation of science has badly polluted many areas of environmental research, and the dirty tricks of politics have destroyed much of the credibility of science as a whole. The good science is there, but is mixed with trash. But far worse is the hijacking of environmentalism as a badly designed vehicle for social levelling. I am all in favour of helping the poor, but trying to do so by throwing money down the drain on environmental subsidies for inefficient energy production ends up being very bad at both helping the poor and helping the environment. It saps money from the economy, and simply wastes it. The result is an increase in poverty, not a decrease. All so that a few people can polish their halos. Everyone loses. If we want to alleviate poverty, it would be far better to save money by using more efficient technology and then spend it on programs specifically designed to help the poor directly.

Many people have observed the similarity between the church’s indulgences and carbon offset payments. The church’s great idea was that you can sin all you like providing you pay the fees to the church. The secular equivalent of carbon trading and offsetting almost begs criminals to exploit the system, and not surprisingly, they already have, and still are.

Another similarity between the evils of religion and environmentalism is the self-flagellation practised by some medieval monks. Anything that might help the environment but doesn’t hurt people enough seems to be rejected, such as shale gas, or nuclear energy. Shale gas is six times cheaper than wind energy and produces a lower CO2 footprint (CO2 doesn’t seem to be so problematic after all but that isn’t the topic of this blog). Nuclear is well-tried and tested and even many environmentalists accept that it is a good solution, being far safer than any other form of electricity production, and producing very low carbon emissions, if that’s your metric for goodness. But most environmentalists still want wind energy for reasons that seem perverse. They seem to want to find the most expensive, ugliest, least efficient system possible so that the pain is greatest. If eagles are chopped to extinction and small animals stressed so much they can’t breed, who cares? If millions of people are upset, all the better. They also want to waste as much as possible on solar before the price comes down to sensible levels, and lock in the high costs for as long as possible. To feel good about trying to maximise pain to as many people as possible while simultaneously damaging the environment does not even appear sane, let alone benign. It is as if self-flagellation isn’t enough; it has to be inflicted on everyone before they are happy. And as for the Spanish inquisition, that is echoed too. There have been ridiculous calls for anyone who doesn’t believe the lunatic rantings of the high priests to be locked up, or even murdered.

So it seems in some ways that the downside of environmentalist religion is even worse than the most perverted practices of medieval religion. But it doesn’t even offset it by giving benefits. Because so many of them despise science, environmentalist policies are often counter-productive. An excellent example is that in the 1970s, climate scientists were recommending sprinkling black carbon on the polar ice to increase heat absorption and thereby offset the coming ice age. Now, they seek to mess with the environment to reduce heat absorption to offset global warming. Now, it looks like cooling is coming after all, they will once again be doing almost the opposite of what seems to be required. There are very many examples of environmental policy damaging the environment from wind farms to coastal erosion to fishery management. The environment would be a great deal better if environmentalists stopped trying to help it. And we’d all be richer and happier.

What is a climate scientist? Indeed, are there any?

We hear the term frequently, but what qualifies some people and not others to be classed as climate scientists?  You might think it is just someone who studies things that affect the climate. But very many people do that, not just those who call themselves climate scientists. The term actually seems to refer solely to a group who have commandeered the term for themselves and share a particular viewpoint, with partly overlapping skills in a subset of the relevant disciplines. In recent times,it seems that to be an official ‘climate scientist’ you must believe that the main thing that counts is human interference and in particular, CO2. All other factors must be processed from this particular bias.

To me, the climate looks like it is affected by a great many influences. Climate models produced by ‘climate scientists’ have been extremely poor at predicting changes so far, and one reason for this is that they exclude many of the relevant factors.

I am struggling to think of any scientific discipline that doesn’t have something to say about some influence on climate. Many branches of chemistry and physics are important in understanding how the atmosphere works, and the oceans, and glaciers, and soil. We have some understanding of some natural cycles, but far from all, and far from complete. We need biologists and chemists and physicists to tell us about soil, and forests, and ocean life, and how species and entire ecosystems react and adapt to changing circumstances, with migrations or adaptation or evolution for example. We need to understand how draining bogs or chopping trees to make room for biofuels affects the climate. How using bio-waste for fuel instead of ploughing it into the ground affects soil structure, plant growth, and carbon interchange. We need to understand how cosmic rays interact with the earth’s magnetic field, how this is affected by solar activity, how sunspots form, and even gravitational interactions with the planets that affect solar cycles. We need to understand glacial melting, how glaciers move differently as temperature changes, how black carbon from diesel engines affects their heat absorption, how clouds form, how they act to warm or cool the earth according to circumstances. We need to understand ocean cycles much better, as well as gas and heat interchange between layers, how this is affected by weather and so on. I could go on, endlessly. We need to understand the many different ways we could make energy in the future, the many options for capture and containment of emissions or pollutants, or positive effects some might have on plant growth and animal food chains.

But it doesn’t stop with science, not be a long way. We also need people skilled in anthropology and demography and sociology and human psychology, who understand how people react when faced with choices of lifestyle when presented in many different ways with different spins, or faced with intimidation or eviction because of environmental policies.  And how groups or tribes or countries will interact and distribute burdens and costs and rewards, or fight, or flee. And religious leaders who understand well the impacts of religious pressures on people’s attitudes and behaviours, even if they don’t subscribe to any organised religion. Clearly environmental behaviour has a strong religious motivation for many people, even if that is just as a crude religion substitute.

We even need people who understand animal psychology, how small mammals react to wind turbine flicker for example, and how this affects the food chain, ecosystem balance and eventual interchange with the atmosphere and the rest of the environment.

And politicians, they understand how to influence people, and marketers, and estate agents. They can help predict behaviours and adaptation and how entire countries may or will interact according to changes in climate, real or imagined.

And we need economists to look at the many alternatives and compare costs and benefits, preferably without ideological and political bias. We need to compare strategies for adaptation and mitigation and avoidance. Honestly and objectively. And we need ethicists to help evaluate the same from human perspectives.

And we need loads of mathematicians, especially statisticians. Climate science is very complicated, and a lot of measurements and trend analyses need in-depth statistical skills, apparently lacking in official climate science, as evidenced by the infamous hockey stick graph. But we also need some to model things like traffic flows so we can predict emissions from different policies.

And we need lots of engineers too, to assess likely costs and timescales for development of alternatives for energy, transport, entertainment and business IT. We need a lot of engineers!

And don’t forget architects, who influence energy balance via choices of shapes, materials and colour schemes as well as how buildings maintain a pleasant environment for the inhabitants.

Ah yes, and futurists. Many futurists are systems thinkers with an understanding of how things link together and how they may develop. You need a few of them too.

I have probably forgotten lots of others. The point is that there are very many factors that need to be included. No-one, and I mean no-one, can possibly have a good grasp of all of them. You can know a bit about a lot of things or a lot about a few things, but you can’t know a lot about everything. I would say that there are no people at all who know about all the things that affect climate in any depth, and therefore no group deserves a monopoly on that title.

So, if you only look in any depth at a few interaction in the oceans and atmosphere and ignore many of the rest of the factors affecting climate, as ‘climate scientists’ seem to, it is hard to see a good reason to continue to hold the title any more than anyone with another label like astrophysicist, or politician. ‘Climate scientists’ as we currently classify them, know a bit about some things that affect climate. So do many other groups. Having skills in a few of the relevant areas doesn’t give any right to dismiss others with skills in a different few. And if they consistently get it wrong, as they do, then there is even less reason to trust their particular viewpoints. And that’s before we even start considering whether they are even honest about the stuff they do talk about. And as Donna Lamframboise has pointed out recently, they don’t deserve to be trusted.