Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
At the heart of the climate change movement is the belief that we will be punished for our sins.
Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.
The human tendency to delude ourselves is a huge theme in this novel. Forget predicting the future, we’re apt to totally misunderstand the present. Our knowledge of even the people we are closest to, as well as political trends and historical pressures, is always imperfect and incomplete.
This novel reminds us that, when railroads were first being built, opposition was widespread:
Women both old and young regarded travelling by steam as presumptuous and dangerous, and argued against it by saying that nothing should induce them to get into a railway carriage…
In this novel, the British public worries that trains will cause farm animals to suffer miscarriages, and fears that the countryside will be “ruined” by railway tracks. In one memorable scene, railway surveyors are physically attacked by a group of farm labourers.
Somebody told you the railroad was a bad thing. That was a lie. It may do a bit of harm here and there, to this and to that; and so does the sun in heaven. But the railway’s a good thing.
To curl up on a chilly winter’s day with Middlemarch is to be brought back down to Earth. The characters we meet at the beginning of this novel are decidedly different people by the end of it. Some of them have fallen tragically short of their aspirations. Others have wrestled successfully with their baser instincts and have grown into stable, contributing human beings.
On this amazing planet with its billions of variables – human and non-human – the future cannot be predicted. Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.
At the heart of the climate change movement we find an ancient dread: the notion that humanity will be punished for our collective transgressions. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden in the first book of the Old Testament is an expression of that dread. So are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the final book of the New Testament.
Floods, droughts, earthquakes, and volcanoes have long been viewed as divine retribution. In some cultures, children have been ritually sacrificed and witches have been burned because the prevailing authorities believed that the gods must be appeased and that evil must be cast out.
Today, although fewer people are religious, ancient fears dwell still in our hearts and psyches. Many people now fervently believe we are sinners against Mother Earth – and that she herself will punish us if we don’t repent.
Computer simulations created by climate modelers are now in sync with old, mouldy narratives. A new source of an old prophecy has emerged. Doom is upon us. The scientist’s computer tells us so.
I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do…They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.
The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.
When responding to a questionnaire a few years ago, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) insiders expressed concern about climate models – even though the questionnaire made no mention of them.
You can read lengthy quotes here, but suffice it to say that some IPCC personnel think that model “deficiencies are [being] airbrushed,” that “fundamental problems” are being hidden, that “known limitations” are being disregarded, and that the public is being misled regarding what climate models can and cannot tell us.
Empirical, observed, measured data – collected out there in Dyson’s real world – suggests there’s little reason for immediate concern. According to this data, temperatures are not shooting up dramatically even though human-generated greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase. In fact, there has been no global warming worth mentioning for 16 years.
So here’s something to consider in these final days of 2013. Humanity is currently spending mountains of money – and devoting the brainpower of tens of thousands of our best and brightest – to fighting climate change.
But the scientific basis for these actions is weak. Instead, the human propensity to believe in sin, punishment, and prophecy provides a better explanation of what’s going on.
The above received some minor editing/polishing six hours after it was first published.