Saturday, February 6, 2010

Is climate change the new faith?

Is climate change the new faith?

by Simon Hoggart

in the UK at the Guardian snailpaper

Feb. 6, 3010

Fanatics must stop playing fast and loose with global warming data? OH REALLY?

As a climate change agnostic – and I suspect most of us are, especially now, and more especially after the Guardian series this week – I've been bothered by two aspects of the argument. The first is the religious overtone. Humankind has always wanted to blame its own behaviour for natural events, whether Noah's flood, plagues of frogs, or volcanos which demonstrate that the gods are angry.

Three years ago a British bishop announced that gay marriage had caused our floods. I've often wondered whether global warming is another example of this, an irrational belief designed for a rationalist world.

And there is an element of religious faith in the true believers. Those who disagree are "deniers", with its echo of fanatics who don't believe in the Holocaust. Years ago I saw a sceptic howled down at a British Association meeting; scientists shouldn't behave like that. If people disagree with you they might not be morally wrong, or agents of Satan. (Or big oil, as the believers often claim.) This ties in with my second worry. Clearly many believers have played fast and loose with the data: since what they believe is true beyond doubt, they have a right – no, a moral duty – to suppress any evidence that might contradict them.

Years ago I cowrote a book, Bizarre Beliefs, about various crazy things people believe in, such as astrology, the Bermuda Triangle and spiritualism. Most of them generated vast amounts of data from which believers simply cherry-picked whatever suited their case. The world's climate produces millions upon millions of facts and figures, and it's very easy to select the ones that suit you and ignore all the rest.

Of course I don't know who's right. But I'm not surprised to see the true believers struggling.

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