Western civilisation has ditched evidence-based rigour for adolescent hysteria
There is something sinister in the stiff mountain air at Davos this year. As ever, the spectacle is almost burlesque in its grotesqueness: the world’s elite has descended on the luxury ski resort in their private jets to discuss global warming over pan-seared Indonesian soy cutlets cooked by a celebrity vegan chef flown in from Canada. But underneath the seedy hypocrisy lingers an even murkier mendacity: an unthinking consensus on how to “save the planet”.
Take the speech by Greta Thunberg, who rattled off Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change figures pertaining to requisite cuts in carbon emissions. “I’ve been repeating these numbers over and over again,” she droned as gormless CEOs and UN apparatchiks blinked at the hoodie-clad managtivist standing before them, grinding on about missed deadlines and squandered targets.
Greta’s bland, corporate-friendly strategy is intriguing; it reinforces her ruse – that the science is mind-numbingly clear, the necessary actions are unquestionable, and that her task is simply to “continue to repeat” it until we are bored.
Naturally, Donald Trump was having none of it. He let rip at this paper-shufflers’ PR stunt, dismissing the “predictions of the apocalypse” and “prophets of doom”. In his own ham-fisted way, the president was groping at – if not quite grasping – the disconcerting truth. Global warming is happening, but the climate science itself is messy, mystifying and ambivalent; the certainty with which eco-warriors present their case is thus disgracefully dishonest.
The causal links made between global warming and the Australian bushfires is one example. Greta has tweeted her despair at the world’s failure “to make the connection between the climate crisis and extreme weather events and nature disasters like the #AustralianFires”. But the inconvenient truth is that scientists have not definitively linked the bushfires to climate change alone. It may be a factor among many. The Australian Academy of Science itself concedes: “Population growth, climate change, temperature extremes, droughts, storms, wind and floods are intersecting in ways that are difficult to untangle.”
The misleading bushfires rhetoric barely scratches the surface of the problems with this consensus. “We know perfectly well” that humans are behind the heating of the planet, Sir David Attenborough proclaimed in a recent BBC interview: this is now a “crisis moment”. But Sir David’s onomatopoeically crumbly prose can’t distract from the shaky foundations of his apocalyptic assertions.
You don’t need to dispute that man is contributing to global warming to question whether it is healthy to talk about the issue with such unwavering certainty, or to ask whether the situation is so urgent as to require the impoverishment of billions to fix it. Scientists have not indisputably proved that other factors are not also contributing. Studies of the heat going into the oceans by dissenters like the Israeli physicist Nir Shaviv, for example, suggest the Sun has a large effect on climate change. Eco-catastrophists have not credibly invalidated his findings, published in the prestigious Journal of Geophysical Research.
Such uncertainties matter when people are being asked to make vast sacrifices in the name of reaching net zero carbon. All our efforts may not make a difference anyway. But contrary views are not permitted. Some researchers are chilled by the shift from scientific endeavour based on theory and evidence to reliance on IPCC-endorsed predictive modelling. Here the cult of managerialism and the mania of eco-catastrophism have dangerously intersected – as university bureaucrats push for research projects which pull in mouth-watering computer-based investment.
Like Galileo and Descartes on the eve of the Enlightenment, scholars have found subtle ways to dodge the suspicions of inquisitorial reactionaries. They discreetly publish papers without press releases, or with incongruous “eco-consensus” inserts, even though these often jar with their findings.
When did Western civilisation enter this new Dark Age? The creepy scenes of Greta’s machinic protestations at Davos offer a clue. Managerialism, an ideology that has filled the vacuum created by the collapse of communism and post-Seventies disillusionment with market capitalism, infects every corner of society. The twist is that it relies for its survival on the flagrant denial of the chaotic complexity upon which it feeds. It deems that all problems (like all corporations) share more similarities than differences, and can thus be solved through generic, optimised processes.