Only culture can explain why so many people are willing to incur immense cost to avert a supposed existential threat without proof of either its existence or our ability to alter its impact.
By Joe Oliver, National Post, July 26, 2023
The climate-change movement is a powerful cultural entity. It does not affirm or negate the reality of its core narrative, which is for science to decide. Culture does, however, explain the power and prevalence of the narrative, the political and societal responses to it and the apparent willingness of many people to incur immense cost to avert a supposed existential threat, without proof of either its existence or our ability to alter its impact.
In a new book available from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, The Grip of Culture: the Social Psychology of Climate Change Catastrophism, Andy A. West, who works for the Philosophy Foundation in London, provides an academic analysis of the phenomenon. Its lessons have particular relevance to Canada’s climate obsession.
As we know, the overarching climate narrative is that human GHG emissions have created a climate emergency that calls for urgent and extraordinary action, without which the consequences for humanity will be catastrophic. In many ways, its cultural characteristics parallel religions and ideological movements, starting with an unshakable foundational belief impervious to contradictory evidence, and extending to incessant incantations from politicians, mainstream media, thought leaders and environmentalists.
The faithful are reassured by groupthink, while apostates are vilified, penalized and ostracized. Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault’s veiled threat to charge Premier Scott Moe of Saskatchewan criminally if he violates federal coal regulations evokes Thomas of Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. The movement has its high priests and priestesses — Al Gore, Justin Trudeau, Greta Thunberg, King Charles and Mark Carney, none a scientist — who convey certainty to the multitudes.
Climate catastrophism a religion, not science
Core principles and a multitude of subsidiary tenets are validated by exaggerated interpretations of scientific studies, as well as anecdotal evidence and conveniently chosen statistics that reinforce the sacred text. Confirmation bias is provided by influencers who propagate the doctrine of the faith. Fear is employed as a powerful motivator and is inculcated from childhood. Apocalyptic doom is preordained for collective disobedience and salvation promised for devotees and repentants who comply with onerous strictures, many of which have no practical utility.
The instinctive response from climate alarmists to public hesitancy is that “the science is settled,” the facts are overwhelming and the need so urgent they can’t waste time quibbling with ignorant or malevolent naysayers who in any case are probably racist, misogynist, far-right conspiracists.
Climate alarmists have a fundamental problem, however, which may help explain their stridency. The complexity of climate science is not settled, as Steve E. Koonin, a physicist and former undersecretary for science in Barack Obama’s Department of Energy, explained in his 2021 book, Unsettled. Other prominent scientists agree, although they are a distinct minority.
IPCC ‘evidence’ based on models, not reality
Nor is climate apocalypse supported by the UN’S Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change even though its conclusions go farther than the scientific studies on which it allegedly relies. Proffered evidence is based on models that have consistently run hot. Yet the conventional consensus is to accept at face value the predictions of people who have been consistently and spectacularly wrong and who, if they were around in the 1970s, were more than likely to have issued warnings about an impending ice age, like Paul Ehrlich and Kenneth Watt, and publications like Time, Science Digest, The New York Times and Newsweek.
There is virtually no chance of reaching global net zero by 2050. Two-thirds of GHG emissions come from poorer countries that are deliberately increasing their use of fossil fuels, while the developed economies, including Canada, have consistently failed to reach the targets they have set themselves. And it takes centuries for excess carbon dioxide to disappear from the atmosphere, so any partial reduction in anthropogenic emissions would only slow their increase, not prevent it or eliminate them. Nevertheless, the Mckinsey Report says $275 trillion may be spent on the doomed gesture, disproportionately hurting the least advantaged and weakening the West in what may actually be an existential struggle with an expansionist communist China.
Andy West writes culture can be a great unifier of societies and even civilizations. But because it is not based on reason, it can also be extraordinarily destructive: witness the calamities perpetrated by communism and fascism. So it is uncertain where climate catastrophism may lead. Last year’s European energy crisis did undermine support for it, even if green activists claimed it proved we need more of the renewable energy that had in fact made the continent more vulnerable to higher prices and inadequate supply.
Zeitgeists do change. When people have to chose between food and heat and when the poorest countries are deprived of the affordable energy they desperately need to raise themselves up, then practicality and guilt may eventually change people’s beliefs. That they haven’t yet done so demonstrates the power of culture in the face of logic, morality, self-interest and the facts.
Joe Oliver was minister of natural resources and minister of finance in the Harper government.