On the Nature of Change: Calm Down!

One of history’s great debates is whether we will die in fire or ice. The proportion of the populace crying each variety of wolf varies according to the fashion of the time.

Vikings newly introduced to Christianity, taking note of their surroundings, sided with ice. They conceived of hell as a cold place, filled with blue devils.

A few centuries later, Dante wrote his Divine Comedy. Its famous first canticle, “Inferno,” had a very different, much hotter picture of hell.

Fast forward to our time. In the 1970s, ice was the fashion once again. Grant-seeking scientists and credulous journalists warned of imminently fatal global cooling. A new ice age was dawning.

In this decade, fire is all the rage again. Many of those same grant-seeking scientists and credulous journalists have changed their minds. Now global warming will cause catastrophe. And these 690 other things (!).

The particular charges change from generation to generation. But the verdict is always the same: apocalypse. A common thread runs from the Book of Revelations to Nostradamus to Rachel Carson to James Hansen. That threat is imminent doom. As one doomsayer after another is proven wrong, the litany gets quite tiresome.

The Earth has cooled over the last decade; will we die in ice?

But it’s gotten warmer over the last century. Fire, then.

But it’s cooler than it was in the High Medieval period. Ice.

But warmer than during the Dark Ages. Fire.

And so on.

Global temperatures will continue to change, ebb, and flow, whether or not we emit large amounts of CO2, and whether or not we care. Yet many people view climate change as a horror. It must be stopped at any cost.

There is a reason why global warming alarmists don’t like to use the phrase “global warming.” They prefer “climate change.” The prospect of a world two degrees warmer than the one we live in now isn’t very scary. But the notion of climate change does scare people. Framing it that way has been devastatingly effective in getting publicity and funding. It’s good for business.

Today’s dominant mindset that any climate change at all is bad is puzzling. It implicitly assumes that today’s climate is the best of all possible climates. Maybe that’s true. But maybe it isn’t. The trouble is that few climate activists seem to have had that thought. The idea of change is so scary that nobody has the presence of mind to ask if that’s a problem or not.

I give them the counsel of Marcus Aurelius, who lived during the (rather warm) second century AD: “To be in the process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good.”*

No, change simply is. It is a part of life. Let us observe, adapt, and live in peace with each other and the world that we all call home. I’m not scared. You shouldn’t be, either.

*Meditations, IV.42; trans. Maxwell Staniforth.