Carbon Atoms and the Riddle of Existence

Spiked’s Josie Appleton really hits the nail on the head in her excellent review of a new book by noted alarmist Mark Lynas. For instance, in relation to all this talk about a “generational challenge”:

Global warming offers us the chance to experience what few generations have had the privilege of knowing. It is a thrill, no less. Global warming is our Cold War. And just as American strategists worried at the end of the Cold War about the loss of the Red opposition, so environmentalists have a kind of attachment to global warming.

Of course, they talk about it being ‘inconvenient’, and they wouldn’t have wished it upon the world. Lynas says that his collapse scenarios are a ‘reluctant conclusion’; in his book Heat, George Monbiot says that it pains him greatly to conclude that people will have to stop flying. But the more that society defines itself in relation to global warming, the less willing it is to let go. Global warming is now not so much a problem to solve, as an issue around which to reorganise society. This is more Noah’s flood than Clean Air Act, and the lesson is in the sins of hubris and consumerism. Global warming is sent to show people that (in Lynas’ words) they are ‘wasting their lives commuting to work in cars’. His proposed solution — to ‘cut our need for energy by living less consumptive lifestyles’ — will apparently form the basis of a new and happier society.

I have a question: if there was a ‘miracle energy cure’, would Lynas use it? I suspect that a straight ‘yes’ would not be the reply. Which is insane, really, because if global warming is a problem, it is only a techno-fix that could solve it. All the arm-twisting in the world is not going to stop India and China flying, a fact shown by recent figures showing a massive boom in air travel. Daily media guilt-mongering has not stopped British people from enjoying weekends in Budapest or Prague, and nor should it. Governments, we can hope, will still be elected in 2050, and while that is the case carbon rations would still be ‘politically unrealistic’. Unless we live under a dictatorship of some Global Commission for the Environment then energy use will continue to rise dramatically; the only question is whether this energy comes from fossil fuels or some other source. And if it needs to come from some other source, we need a techno-fix.

Techno-fixes are not some airy-fairy notion, some leap of faith. This is otherwise known as innovation, the only way that environmental problems have ever been solved or new energy systems produced. I am not aware of a major environmental problem successfully tackled by the mass of people consciously and systematically abstaining from some or other desirable activity. The lesson of history is that techno-fixes happen, and they happen fast in societies that are looking for solutions. There were only three years between the first controlled nuclear chain reaction and the dropping of a bomb on Hiroshima in 1945; only five years separated a nuclear reaction successfully lighting a lightbulb in 1951 and the first nuclear power station in 1956.

Quite right. In her conclusion, Josie says something that CEI has been saying for years – that this isn’t a scientific issue, but a political one informed by science and economics:

We need a new school of thought in the global warming debate, which is founded not on scientific facts but on political critique. It is only this that can explain the way in which the issue is framed, or its hold over social life and public debate. Lynas’ books suggest the attraction of the global warming issue has little to do with environmental problems. Instead, global warming appears to provide answers to life’s big questions, offering a new kind of historic mission and a new structure for personal morality.

Only global warming doesn’t really answer any of these big questions – it shuts them down, solving the problem of meaning by abolishing meaning itself. As we look forward to 2050, we could hope to find some more profound answers to the riddle of existence than that measured in the rise and fall of carbon atoms. We could also hope to find some more sensible (but, possibly, less dramatic) solutions to any environmental challenges we face.

We need to strip drama from climatology, and add drama to our lives. The question of how we live should be subject to mass, passionate debate, and Geophysical Research Letters should be left in the basement of the Radcliffe Science Library for the consultation of specialists.

Quite right, too. This is the way to the solution demanded by both democracy and justice. Yet the follower of scientism and the green zealot alike finds it all too incovenient.