I’ve been too busy for blogging recently. To break the silence, I thought I’d post this presentation I gave at a debate at York University this time last year. The discussion was about the view often expressed by environmentalists that there is no need for any further scientific debate. Needless to say, our side won the vote about the motion.
One of the most striking characteristics of the climate debate is the almost routine confusion of politics and science.
“Climate change is happening”, we’re told, time and time again, therefore “we need strong, radical, international frameworks on climate change”, laws, regulation, and maybe even rationing in order to prevent a disaster.
In this view, we need to fundamentally change our economies, our industry, and our lifestyles. And we need institutions to be put in place to make sure this happens.
This has even become an argument against democracy itself. This argument holds that the public are too stupid to understand the gravity of the situation we face. Democracy therefore becomes no more than a means to satisfy individual greed and indulgence in the face of catastrophe.
“We are fiddling with our ipods and plasma widescreen TVs while Rome burns.”
My argument here is that to forbid the discussion of the science of climate change is therefore to forbid the discussion of the organising principle of today’s political institutions.
We cannot challenge it because it exists behind closed doors. It exists on computer simulations, guarded by today’s priests: a holy order of climate scientists.
The scientific proposition that CO2 causes or will cause catastrophe has formed the basis of a system of ethics and a system of politics. This system is environmentalism, and it exists in contrast to human-centric systems of thought and politics. It informs the creation of supra-national political organisations, such as the UNFCCC and treaties that follow in its wake. It informs our industrial transport and the energy policies and strategies of our government. It establishes the relationship between individuals and the state.
We take it for granted that this proposition, or set of propositions, is true, because science is, in today’s world, the last seat of authority.
The question I have is about whether that desire for political authority exists before or after climate science. I believe that the politics is prior.
The unstated premise of environmentalism is that politics is impotent to face the challenges of development.
Once this view has been established, once we decide that politics is pointless, catastrophe becomes a given.
As I argued on Tuesday, catastrophe is inevitable, only if we take it for granted that we cannot organise the world to combat poverty through development, i.e. through the creation of wealth.
We hear so often that climate change will be worse for the poor, but we never interrogate this claim to ask whether it might be better to address the issue of poverty than to attempt to make other people’s lives better by driving less.
So we hear that the 300,000 deaths attributed to climate change are a bigger concern than 40 million deaths — and the rest — from poverty, throughout the world.
This dysnumeric moral calculus is owed to our politicians’ inability to generate authority for their political ideas in political terms: by asking you to engage with them, for instance. It is owed to their inability to connect with the public. This has driven politicians to search for another basis for their authority. Contemporary politics cannot conceive of a way of making life better for the millions or billions of people living in poverty in this world, never mind finding a way of improving life for the rest of us. There is no science which could serve as the basis for such an idea.
Accordingly, we are forced to accept a form of politics that is limited by the ethical imperatives seemingly issued by climate and environmental science
This, it is argued, is evidence-based policy-making.”The science is in”, and the continued debate about climate change impedes the possibility of “rising to the challenge” we are faced with. Instead, I would argue, we can see policy-based evidence making.
The catastrophes that we are confronted by, are instead the products of today’s vapid political imaginations. They confused their own impotence for material reality. No wonder the other ‘side’ does not want there to be a debate.
A continued debate might reveal just how hollow today’s political discourse actually is: what is passed off as climate science is a fig leaf. It hides our politicians shame: an embarrassment of bad faith, bad politics, and bad science.