Monday, January 25, 2010

Global Warming, Y2K and Neopagan Religiosity

The science is interesting, but I'm not a scientist and so I rely on experts to tell me what the science says. But just because I'm not an expert that does not mean I abandon critical thinking and give up asking questions. Scientific experts are only authoritative when they are unanimous and it has become clear to me over that past few months that the experts on climate change are far from unanimous.

A group of political activists of a certain ideological bent have seized control of the media narrative on Global Warming and have cooperated with their fellow travelers in academia and government bureaucracies to concoct an "artificial crisis" that can be exploited in order to achieve certain political goals on a global scale (such as world government, transfer of wealth from the West to Third World governments, the undermining of capitalism, etc.). But what really interests me is the way in which the advocates of Global Warming alarmism have tapped into a vein of religiosity that seems to be worldwide, perennial and only superficially overcome in the West, the world center (until recently) of Christianity. In other words, I'm fascinated by the theological aspects of the Global Warming scare.

Here is a post from a blog I have recently found, which I recommend. The blog is "There is No Frakking 'Scientific Consensus' on Global Warming" and the website, "" of which it is a part is run by Donna Laframboise of Toronto. The post is entitled "The Big Picture: the Y2K Lesson." I'd like to quote 3 paragraphs, the middle one of which I find theologically interesting.
" It's easy to lose perspective when one is in the thick of things. Imagining how the situation will appear to a disinterested observer ten - or 100 - years hence is immensely helpful.

Certain ideas resurface again and again throughout human history. One of these is the notion that the world as we know it is on the brink of collapse. That the gods, Mother Nature, or our own technology, will wreak havoc - will, in essence, punish us for our transgressions.

Yesterday I read a number of news reports written prior to January 1, 2000 - the day the Y2K computer glitch was supposed to bring the world to its knees. I've long assumed that the reason we didn't encounter massive problems was because lots of time and money was devoted to preventing such an occurrence. But in recent months more than one source has argued persuasively that countries that paid almost no attention to the matter escaped similarly unscathed. [See, for example, the opening pages of Flat Earth News]"
Do I think she is right that in a few years people will look back on this period of AGW alarmism much in the same way as they now do on the Y2K hysteria? Well, yes I do. Yesterday was the day I became convinced that the AGW alarmism is all hype and no substance. Climategate was bad enough and the investigation of the Science and Technology Committee of the British House of Commons into the East Anglia University Climate Research Unit promises to turn up a lot more dirt and provide needed perspective on the dirt uncovered so far. But when I saw the pro-GW Times of London beginning to publish stories about the sloppy mess that the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are and how they are actually summaries of opinions and baseless predictions from environmental activist groups instead of actual, peer-reviewed, scientific papers based on repeatable measurements or experiments, I lost any remaining faith I might have had in the Al Gore Church of Climatology. (For a quick summary of the recent revelations calling the IPCC reports into question, see here.)

[Let me be clear: I don't dispute that the planet may be in a long term warming cycle; it seems obvious that it has since the end of the last ice age. But such a macro trend does not mean there are not cooler and warmer periods lasting decades or centuries at a time. Also, I don't deny that human civilization has influenced the temperature of that planet; I just don't know if that is true or if the amount of influence is enough to cause all (or even many) of the effects the alarmists predict like the melting of the ice caps, London under water etc. And I also don't know if anything we could do at this stage (assuming the alarmists are right) would make a significant difference or not short of reducing the total human population to under a million and taking civilization back to a hunter-gather level. What I do dispute and deny is that there exists a scientific consensus based on irrefutable, repeatable scientific experiments to support the alarmist claims. How that would make me unscientific is beyond me, but that is the charge made against people like me. I find that charge more indicative of the unscientific mentality of those making it than an accurate description of my position.]

But the most interesting question is not the conspiracy theory aspects of who profits and who started this to attain what ends. Clearly, this is more than a conspiracy of a few individuals who created it with an understanding of how far it would go. In fact it does not look like a conspiracy in that sense. It appears to me to be out of control and rolling along because of a perfect storm of religious predisposition meeting post-Cold War Leftist restlessness meeting postmodern relativism infecting academic science meeting Anti-Globalization/Anti-Capitalism. What I'm interested in here is the religious predisposition part. Note again that middle paragraph quoted above:

"Certain ideas resurface again and again throughout human history. One of these is the notion that the world as we know it is on the brink of collapse. That the gods, Mother Nature, or our own technology, will wreak havoc - will, in essence, punish us for our transgressions."

This is a notion as old as human beings (or at least as old as fallen human beings). It is the basis of paganism, whether of the simpler animistic kind (witchcraft, totemism etc.) or the more complex Greco-Roman pantheon of gods. We humans are vulnerable. We transgress. We kill and eat animals. We kill (and sometimes eat) each other. We betray. We steal. We deceive. A consciousness of sin may lie buried deep in the human psyche but it is always there. And so we fear Nature, the gods, Mother Earth, the Sun, the Moon or whatever. Nature is "bigger" and than any of us and "immortal" and so we fear it.

As Christianity loses its grip on the popular imagination of the West, the likelihood of this kind of religiosity returning in some fashion was almost 100%. Chesterton predicted it and he was not the only one. The discredited secularization thesis is now recognized to be a symptom of the hubris of the modern mindset that exalted man to the pinnacle of nature and declared his fitness to assume the role of god. But we will always need the gods. Christians know why; we are hard-wired by our Creator for worship. As mortals who can imagine immortality we will never be satisfied with materialistic naturalism - the new paganism of the modern world - even when it is dressed up in "dialectical materialism," "scientific socialism," or Dawkins' "Blind Watchmaker" style of evolution.

In fact, as the implications of belief in evolution sink in we naturally gravitate to a neopaganism, whether of the Nietzschean kind or of the AGW kind. In the new ecological religion(s) we offer sacrifices of trillions of dollars for reparations, we flagellate ourselves for our lifestyles, we seek to atone for our sins by recycling and taking the bus and we moralistically criticize our neighbors for driving too large a vehicle or watering their lawns too often.

To demonstrate that neopaganism can even borrow ideas from Christianity and adapt them to their new religion, we see the advent of the Medieval concept of indulgences in the new global religion of AGW in the form of carbon credits. We claim that Western countries are polluting the environment and pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thus causing Global Warming. So what to do? The logical thing would be to stop pumping out carbon dioxide. But this is beyond logic. We don't actually stop pumping out the carbon dioxide: we simply impose a tax on ourselves and give the money to charity. This has no effect whatsoever on the atmosphere of the earth, but it makes us feel ever so much better. Our sins have been atoned for. You might summarize modern "progress" this way: "Medieval warm period out; Medieval indulgences in."

Never mind for a moment what Marxist motivations may lie behind the transfer of wealth or the global tax on carbon that is being sought so earnestly. Think about the motivations of the millions of people who willingly accept this scheme. They aren't Marxists. Why do they meekly accept it? Faced with the loss of modern industry and a return to the 17th century economy, many people think paying a hundred billion over 10 years sounds like a good deal. But why pay it if it isn't going to stop Global Warming anyway? Well, the point isn't really to stop Global Warming in a strict sense. We will make some token feints in that direction. In truth, the only real consensus is that all proposals made so far, including what was on the table in Copenhagen, are insufficient to stop Global Warming. One gets the impression that we could never make enough sacrifices to satisfy this god.

But that is just fine with the devotees. The point is that making substantial but not crippling sacrifices achieves the real effect sought: the alleviation of our troubled environmental consciences. School children from the earliest ages are now indoctrinated into environmental guilt and no wonder that, when they grow up, they vote for politicians who promise to take actions designed to assuage that guilt. It is one of the primary felt needs of citizens of modern, Western countries. It fills a void created by the exclusion of Christianity from the public school system and the public square in general.

Global Warming alarmism fills a genuine religious need for guilt management in late modern society. No conspiracy is necessary. There is a consensus. It is not a scientific one, but a religious one.

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