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Ivo Vegter: How climate alarmists fuel climate denial

Ivo Vegter, Daily Friend

By making apocalyptic predictions that don’t come true, and demanding a Marxist revolution to avoid them, climate change alarmists do not gain support. On the contrary. They create hard-boiled climate denialists, who will flatly reject any scientific arguments about climate, and any policies aimed at protecting the environment.

‘The end is nigh!’ is an age-old conceit of religious zealots and prophets of doom. Preaching apocalypse may comfort believers, but it isn’t very convincing to unbelievers.

In the Olivet Discourse, also known as the Little Apocalypse, Jesus predicts great catastrophic events that would culminate with the second coming of the Messiah. Towards the end, he says: ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.’

That generation did pass away, and much of the prophecy didn’t happen. The sun didn’t darken, the moon still shines, the stars didn’t fall from the sky, the heavenly bodies are quite unshaken, and Jesus himself has not returned, even two millennia later.

The venerable defender of Christianity, C.S. Lewis, wrote: ‘The apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, “This generation shall not pass till all these things be done.” And He was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. This is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.’

Thus started a veritable industry of predictions of the second coming. Wikipedia lists 53 such predictions throughout history, the dates for 48 of which have already passed.

There are even more predictions of the apocalypse, or the end of the world as we know it. Although Christians are not the only culprits, they occur largely among religious zealots and conspiracy theorists. Wikipedia lists 190 forecasts of the apocalypse, of which 10 are astrophysics-based predictions very far in the future. Of the remaining 180, 174 (and one of the ten far-future predictions) have already been overtaken by events.

There are psychological reasons why apocalyptic beliefs may appeal to some people. Traumatic experiences or a hard life may engender a feeling of fatalism, and sharing that with other like-minded people might be reassuring. Attributing a sense of doom to a larger cosmic order might also be comforting, and remove a sense of individual responsibility. Belief in imminent apocalypse can also make existential threats, like the fear of our own mortality, more predictable, quieting the anxiety of uncertainty. Preparing for the apocalypse, as many conspiracy theorists do, can also have therapeutic value.

Some people even romanticise the post-apocalyptic period and see it as a return to nobler, simpler times.

Fear and persuasion

Apocalyptic predictions have long played a role in controlling how people think and behave. They are a propaganda tool in the hands of the powerful, who use fear to elicit compliance with their wishes.

Capitalists and communists have both used fear of the other as tools of persuasion. Defence hawks use fear of foreign enemies or domestic terrorism to justify vast expenditure on things that go bang. Religious conservatives use fear of Satan to rail against everything from dancing to fantasy novels to drugs to yoga.

Public health and safety authorities bombard us with images of blackened lungs or gruesome car wrecks, should we choose to disregard their advice on smoking, drinking, or safe driving.

Advertisers frequently use fear – of germs and bugs, of missing out, of danger, of missed deadlines, of insecurities, of disappointed spouses, of embarrassment – to market their products. Just as sex sells, fear sells too.

The problem is, using fear as a persuasion tactic can backfire.

A review of sixty years’ worth of fear-appeal research found that fear arousal may result in defensive reactions such as risk denial, biased information processing, and allocating less attention to the promoted messages. This makes fear an ineffective behaviour change method. Ironically, this effect is most common among those who are most susceptible to the threat.

According to the authors, the elements of fear appeals that are most likely to motivate risk reduction behaviour are: (a) suggesting that the person can successfully perform the recommended protective actions; (b) suggesting that the recommended action will avoid the danger; (c) suggesting that the threat is personally relevant; but not, (d) messages suggesting in an emotional way that the threat is severe.

Note that last part: playing on emotions by exaggerating dangers is how not to convince people.

The same researchers later published another paper in which they concluded that the belief that fear appeals had positive effects on behaviour was ‘only true under specific, rare circumstances’.

Climate apocalypse

The climate change industry (and it is an industry, worth billions, or even trillions, depending how you measure it; just follow the money) has long used fear as a means of persuasion.

Its targets are not just the general population, whose consumer behaviour they seek to change in a myriad ways, but also government policy makers, whom they hope to convince to hobble rival industries with taxes, restrictions and prohibitions, while boosting their own through subsidies, mandates, or direct fiscal spending.

A paper published by the Global Warming Policy Forum neatly, and entertainingly, reviews the history of alarming climate predictions. What follows is mostly extracted from this paper.

In the 1970s, there was widespread concern, among scientists and the media alike that the cooling trend observed since the 1940s, and attributable to particulate pollution, would continue and could lead to a new ice age. By the 1980s, the temperature trend had reversed, and the new concern became ‘hothouse Earth’.

In 1989, Noel Brown, director of the UN Environment Programme, made a range of apocalyptic predictions, including that entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend was not reversed by the year 2000, that sea levels would rise by three feet, and that temperatures would rise by between 1°C and 7°C within 30 years. None of his predictions came true. Global mean sea level had risen by less than a tenth of his prediction, and the global mean temperature had risen only 0,4°C by 2019.

The Pentagon released an alarming report in 2004, in which it predicted that by 2007, violent storms would breach coastal defences, rendering large parts of the Netherlands uninhabitable and forcing the abandonment of coastal cities such as The Hague. It is now seventeen years later, and The Hague is just fine.

It also predicted that Europe would, paradoxically, suffer massive temperature declines between 2010 and 2020, and that Britain would come to resemble Siberia. Didn’t happen.

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