The Noble Lie of 'Global Warming'

The foundation of the environmentalist movement is, essentially, a carrot and a stick. The carrot is a global paradise, with worldwide temperature increases halted at less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Which is to say, victory for their movement and the human race. The stick is, well, the kind of worldwide devastation for the planet and humanity predicted in David Wallace-Wells' hysterical 2019 book The Uninhabitable Earth. Victory, they might say, for oil barons, car owners, people with more than one child, and anyone else who hates Mother Gaia.

But what if the carrot were to disappear? That is a possibility which Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic's resident climate worry wart (or one of many) has had to come to grips with in the wake of the most recent report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has just  published a piece examining the report's findings entitled "The 1.5-Degree Goal Is All But Dead." Most notable, he says, is that while the I.P.C.C. believes that it is still "technically feasible" for humanity to halt global warming at 1.5 degrees, that goal "is now, in practice, probably impossible to achieve."

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

These are chilling words for environmentalists, but Meyer confesses that 1.5 degrees was always an aspiration goal. It might even be worth admitting that it was far-fetched from the outset. Despite being "enshrined in international law" (make of that what you will) via the Paris Climate Agreement, and inspiring an earlier I.P.C.C. report which "detailed the dire famines, droughts, and disasters that would accompany even that level of warming," Meyer explains that "achieving 1.5 degrees has never seemed particularly likely." That's because doing so would require "the world [replacing] its energy system at an unprecedented pace" and to succeed at a project of decarbonization which, he says, borders on the "fantastic, the miraculous." Skeptics have often accused climate change partisans of indulging in magical thinking. Meyer concedes that description is basically accurate.

So even when the original reports predicting disaster if 1.5 degrees were not achieved, the goal was nearly impossible. But human civilization has continued on existing in the years since. Carbon emissions have continued and, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars raised and spent by environmentalist groups, fossil-fuel capacity has continued to grow as well. Says Meyer:

The world can emit as much carbon dioxide as it produced during the 2010s—about 400 gigatons—before it uses up the rest of its 1.5-degree budget, the new report finds. But the world’s existing fossil-fuel infrastructure, as already built and financed, would generate another 660 to 850 gigatons of emissions.

So in what sense is 1.5 degrees still "technically feasible"? He explains, "Meeting the goal will require taking coal, oil, and natural-gas capacity offline before it was designed to shut down." That is, ushering in a new stone age.

It is interesting that Meyer doesn't quite despair. When Michael Moore accepted that the environmentalist movement was built on magical thinking and lies, he leaned in to the new stone age -- and the mass extinction which would necessarily accompany it -- as the only way to save the planet. But Meyer actually defends 1.5 C as a noble lie and motivator:

It inspired a new round of global climate concern. The aggressive climate action of the past few years—Greta Thunberg’s protests, Wall Street’s calls for corporate sustainability, even Europe’s Green Deal—would have been unimaginable without the 1.5-degree report.

He closes the piece with a note of concern that the loss of 1.5 C as a target might be dispiriting to some environmentalist groups which have built their branding and institutional strategies around it. Meyer quotes an I.P.C.C. member who suggests a rhetorical shift to 1.6 C, or even "well below 2 degrees Celsius." Look for that to be adjusted in a few years.

Meanwhile, in the real world, sea levels are fairly stable and sea ice is expanding. The climate is changing, yes, but never quite in the way or within the timeframe that the I.P.C.C. worshippers claim. Here's hoping that this disappointment will inspire a few perspective Greta Thunberg's to wake up and smell the CO2. It's glorious.

The Rise of the Christian Gaia

“Gaia is Angry” was a popular Green slogan some years ago, and its message was later transmitted in the 2017 Jennifer Lawrence movie “Mother!”—a biblical allegory of how Man destroys God’s Creation by his careless devastation of the world’s resource and makes Mother Earth really, really, well, mother-bleeping mad. The result is global warming among many other plagues.

Or maybe not. Cinema audiences were confused by the allegorical plot, and attempts to explain it confused them further. One made it seem that God was the villain because his over-ambitious male creativity was constantly upsetting a Cosmos that Gaia’s gentle female touch might otherwise have made a little bit of heaven.

That’s the problem with allegories. They ride off furiously in all directions. Let’s get down to earth.

The Venus of Willendorf: Miss April of 22,000 B.C.

Gaia began her career as the goddess who represents the earth in Greek mythology. She was brought down from Olympus a few decades ago by the British scientist, James Lovelock, to give a divine face to his scientific definition of the Earth. Lovelock’s description of the earth is in fact a cool, rational one and it was well-summarized in the Summer 2020 issue of The New Atlantis by Joel Garreau, professor of law, culture and values at Arizona State University, as follows:

The physical components of the earth, from its atmosphere to its oceans, closely integrate with all of its living organisms to maintain climatic chemistry in a self-regulating balance ideal for the maintenance and propagation of life.

That’s a long way from seeing Gaia as the vengeful goddess seeking to punish her rape by murdering her assailants which is the admiring deep green view of her. It’s not even an attempt to personify and feminize the old-fashioned philosophy of pantheism (i.e., God consists of Everything all rolled up together) that the Victorian Scottish critic, Andrew Lang, summed up in the following verse drawn from the religion of cricket:

I am the batsman, and the bat,
I am the bowler, and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch, and stumps, and all

Lovelock’s view is a scientific analysis that treats human beings as valuable participants in nature and proposes to protect them (i.e., us)  by  geo-engineering solutions to global warming—e.g. spraying stuff into the stratosphere to reflect the sun’s rays back into space-- of the kind we used to hear from the late Edward Teller. It’s a good thing for Lovelock that his admirers don’t read him, as both he and Garreau concede, and so don’t know that Gaia is not quite the nice progressive girl they took her for.

Plus ça change...

That is small comfort to the rest of us, however, for Gaia has escaped from her Pygmalion and now wanders around freely, accepting not only the worship of Greta Thunberg and her New Age children’s crusade but also that of senior converts from established religions who seem to believe that she’s already a Christian saint—it’s just that she hasn’t been canonized yet. That’s the culmination of a slow movement by the Christian churches to adopt more and more of the Environmentalist Creed as the Christian creed seems less and less sure of itself.

When Gaia was first presented to the world by Lovelock, there was still some theological resistance to the new secular religion of environmentalism on the grounds that it saw humans not as part and parcel of the nature that ecologists seek to defend but as a plague or “bacillus” that is a threat, maybe a mortal one, to the Earth. Christians and other critics saw Gaia worship as a kind of hostile and aggressive pantheism, and in some of the policies it advanced—notably, population control or reduction, including support for abortion as a right—as self-consciously hostile to Christianity, especially Catholicism.

That suspicion has now vanished down the memory hole of Western Christianity. A few Catholic intellectuals, theologically serious about religions that rival Christianity, continue to resist Gaia’s charms. Otherwise, however, green policies are now a main orthodoxy of the Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, and Professor Garreau see signs that U.S. evangelicals are increasingly converting to Gaia too.

He envisages two streams in the broad overall Christian exodus to Gaia diverging from each other: the less extreme is what he calls “the greening of Christianity”; the more extreme is a Calvinism-derived “carbon fundamentalism.” The first theme is reformist and open to practical compromises that improve the world’s carbon footprint without solving all climate problems; the second is a totalist approach that subordinates everything to the emergency need for net-zero carbon reduction. It is authoritarian in its politics, punitive towards those who disagree with it, aka mortal sinners, and has no provisions for compromise with the Devil or even for forgiving those who repent.

(It’s worth noting here that Andrew Sullivan has just written a column arguing that if Republicans were to adopt a mix of climate solutions—notably, nuclear power plus innovative new clean energy technologies—it would have a good chance of solidifying its support among electoral groups that closely resemble Christians who have undergone “greening.”  So we're talking electoral politics here as well as faith-based policy solutions.)

Professor Garreau makes a persuasive and reasonable case, and I’m inclined to agree with eighty percent of it. But the twenty percent on which we differ is also worth examining. It comes down to three things:  (a) are these two streams of Christian environmentalism really diverging? (b) does religious environmentalism develop a mistaken dogmatism unsuited to secular controversies? And (c) do the newly green Christian inevitably abandon Christian perspectives and Christian language when they are discussing climate change.

Queen of the May.

First, it’s my impression from reading Christian apologetics on the environment that these two “new traditions” are not so much diverging as that carbon fundamentalists are gradually gaining influence and leadership over the newly-Green Christians (maybe born-again environmentalists?) Consider, for instance, a recent survey of Anglican beliefs on public policy, Rotting from the Head: Radical Progressive Attitudes and the Church of England,  from the UK think-tank Civitas, which consists largely of quotations from Anglican  sources on how they are committing to Green and other progressive causes . It’s summed by one statistic:

Over 70 percent of all Dioceses (71 percent) appoint clergy who promote climate activist warnings and calls for recognition of the ‘climate emergency.’

But that statistic does not convey the radical character of what a large majority of Anglican bishops and priests are advocating: they assume the truth of the most extreme forecasts of climate emergency, propose the most extreme solutions to it with no serious consideration of their impact on human life and well-being plus no serious consideration of trade-offs, and urge support for civil disobedience by Extinction Rebellion and other social activists on the grounds that the “climate emergency” is too important to be left to democratic decision-making.

In other words, the carbon fundamentalists are leading their moderate religious allies towards the most extreme rhetoric and policies of a form of environmentalism that is utopian, pessimistic, authoritarian, and anti-democratic. That's a very bad fit with most of the Christian message and as a result it produces a number of perverse effects.

One is the second difference I sense with Garreau: that many Christians converted to Gaia embrace global solutions which take little or no account of their overall impact on people. In particular, as Bjorn Lomborg has pointed out, they violate the commonsense rule that the costs of a remedy for climate change should not be higher than the costs of climate change itself. When we cease to apply such tests to climate policy, we're not doing what Christ wants; We're substituting moral vanity for thought. Such broad-brush errors are not, of course, confined to Anglicans.

Pope Francis won’t be at the U.N. Climate Change COP26 conference in Glasgow—almost certainly for medical reasons—but he will be there in spirit. Only two weeks before it opened, he made a series of demands upon the world “In the Name of God” which began with a request to “the great extractive industries–mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness–to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas . . . “ and in short to stop destroying the environment for their business.

Freeze to death.

Since Pope Francis is known for deploying ambiguity in argument, we can legitimately ask what he means here. If his meaning is that mining companies should clean up after their activities, he is amply justified. If he means that they should treat the environment in general, including local peoples, with respect, ditto. But if he wants an end to mining fossil fuels asap, as some have interpreted his words, then we must point out that today fossil fuels provide eighty-five percent of the energy for the world, that there is no possibility they can be phased out in anything like the near future, and that if they were to be phased out prematurely, the poor and marginalized in all countries would suffer dreadfully in ways for which neither taxpayers nor “corporations” could possibly compensate them.

That's something that Catholics in particular must consider seriously. Catholic social teaching is blend of moral principles on which the Pope is an authority and practical secular knowledge which is the province of the layman. That’s why its judgments tend to be balanced and to seek to reconcile conflicting legitimate interests. That is not the spirit in which Christianity’s carbon fundamentalists approach climate policy or reform in general. In their moralistic zeal to punish what they see as evil, they risk destroying the huge gains in living standards—several billion Asians lifted into the global middle class since 1989—that are rooted in cheap carbon energy. That fierce spirit has spread to all of Gaia’s new Christian converts. But they don’t know what they do.

And, finally, that spirit is reflected in the language that Christian preachers too often use in debates on the environment. Simply look through the twenty-seven pages of Rotting from the Head devoted to statements by Anglican bishops and priests and you find  very few traditionally Christian terms justifying their radical green demands. Their rhetoric is drawn largely from the radical progressive wing of climate Christianity which is itself shaped by a punitive godless Calvinism.

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

There are very occasional references to Christian stewardship or God’s Creation—and that’s it. Interestingly, there are even fewer rebukes to radical Green attacks on human beings as a plague on the planet. And most interestingly of all, there are many fire-and-brimstone punishments threatened to polluters, “deniers,” and the merely uninterested. Except for the elect in Extinction Rebellion, we are all guilty.

But punishments imposed by Whom? God is no longer allowed by progressive Christianity to threaten such things. It seems that for a satisfying denouement we’ll have to rely upon an “Angry Gaia." And unfortunately, as we have seen, Gaia’s thunderbolts are more likely to strike the sheep than the goats.

Mother Gaia Likes it Hot

If you've noticed that the greens are in an especially reverent mood of late, it is because the holiest months of their neo-pagan religion are now upon us. What we call summer is referred to semi-officially in their calendar as "Air Conditioning Antipathy Season," and it is traditionally celebrated with the proliferation of various and sundry bits of anti-A/C propaganda whose object is to berate the unenlightened among us for preferring not to be roasted alive from June through August.

Time Magazine recently released a perfect example of this pious genre. Written by Eric Dean Wilson, author of the unpleasant sounding "After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort," the piece begins by mentioning the heatwave that hit the Pacific Northwest last month, with temperatures far exceeding 100ºF and department stores predictably running out of A/C units.

"Unfortunately," Wilson asserts, dutifully, "air-conditioning is part of what’s causing the unusual heatwave in the first place." He then walks us through the supposedly disreputable history of air conditioning, which he says contributed to socio-economic divides (because it was initially prohibitively expensive), was a marker of structural racism (because southern whites got it first), and, more recently, contributed to a near environmental calamity, namely the depletion of the ozone layer which was related to the use of chlorofluorocarbons as refrigerants.

One of the reasons folks used to go to the movies. (YouTube)

The article is strange reading for outsiders, as is often the case with religious texts. The race and class references seem awkwardly inserted, perhaps to appease other factions within their broad church. But there are some difficult-to-comprehend passages even within the purely environmental sections.

For instance, you'd think the fact that CFCs were banned in 1987 and have been largely replaced by the much more environmentally friendly hydrofluorocarbons (or HFCs) would be a relief for Wilson, but you'd be wrong. While HFCs don't deplete the ozone layer they still contribute to global warming, he says, as does air conditioning generally, simply because it uses energy.

But if "thou shalt avoid excess energy" is just part of their decalogue, air conditioning is an odd target. As Megan McArdle explained in Bloomberg a while back," Americans still expend much more energy heating their homes than cooling them." This might seem surprising, but it makes sense upon reflection:

The difference between the average temperature outside and the temperature that is comfortable inside is generally only 10 to 20 degrees in most of America, for most of the summer. On the other hand, in January, the residents of Rochester, New York... need to get the temperature up from an average low of 18 degrees (-8 Celsius) to at least 60 or 65. That takes a lot of energy.

Heating homes often seems natural in a way cooling them does not, but this is illogical. Both extremes can (and do) kill people every year. Moreover, McArdle points out that one of the environmental benefits of air conditioning is that it has enabled Americans to progressively move in the direction of the sunbelt, where heating needs in winter are minimal, meaning that less energy overall is used in regulating temperature.

In any event, Wilson's own solution to the  "problem" suggested in his piece is not for his co-religionists to move south, but rather to drastically reduce the amount of A/C used by both elect and reprobate alike. This he would apparently accomplish by banning home air conditioners and having us all become "more comfortable with discomfort." If A/C is allowed to remain legal, it should be available only at "public cooling centers" where, presumably, rich and poor alike can gather joyfully together to gather together to avoid the scorching heat.

If you can't take the heat...

This seems about as realistic to me as the idea that there was a soul-saving spaceship following the comet Hale–Bopp -- how well would those public cooling centers have worked in, for instance, Portland, Ore., when the mercury hit 112º? More than likely people would have rioted to get in and to stay in.

But I guess that (apocryphal) St. Thomas Aquinas line holds true here -- "For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible." Happy A/C Antipathy season to our devout readers.

Gaia's Minions Won't Stop with Keystone

One theory as to why Team Biden killed the Keystone XL pipeline on Day One of his presidency is that the project had garnered so much notoriety. Keystone, the reasoning goes, had become a cause célèbre for the environmentalist left, and the Biden administration had to throw them a bone by terminating it, but that doing so doesn't give us a window into how he will actually govern over the next four years. No doubt this is what leaders of the various unions who endorsed Biden are currently telling themselves.

There is an obvious flaw in this reasoning. If Biden is willing to quash a major pipeline project like Keystone (midway through construction and at the cost of damaging America's relation with our ally, Canada) simply because environmentalists have succeeded in making the pipeline infamous, what's to stop them from making other pipeline projects similarly well known and with the same object in mind?

Well, it seems as if that is exactly what they're doing. Last week, we discussed a victory for Enbridge Line 5, which moves 540,000 barrels of Canadian petroleum products per day from Wisconsin. to Sarnia, Ont. Gretchen Whitmer has declared war on Line 5, and is both trying to halt its operation, on the grounds that it is a danger to the Straits of Mackinac, and trying to stop the construction on a tunnel under those straits whose object is to make its operation safer. Michigan's department of energy has, nevertheless, granted a construction permit to build the tunnel.

Gov. Whitmer's war goes on, however, and the possibility that she'll succeed has started to make Canadians nervous. Trudeau's minister of natural resources, Seamus O'Regan (a committed environmentalist), and Ontario's Conservative Premier Doug Ford have both put out statements in support of Line 5. Conservative leader Erin O'Toole recently wrote an op-ed defending it. Why would a Liberal Minister set out to defend a pipeline alongside Conservative politicians? Because, beyond the jobs it supports, Line 5 supplies about half of the petroleum needs of Ontario and Quebec! Losing it would be a disaster for Canada, and even Trudeaupian Liberals know it.

The honorably lady "from" Minnesota.

And now another front in this war has developed. Ilhan Omar, the hard-left congressional representative from Minnesota, has appealed directly to Joe Biden to kill Enbridge Line 3, which transports those same petroleum products from Alberta to Wisconsin, crossing through the congresswoman's home state. In an open letter (of course), Omar said "I joined millions of Americans celebrating your announcement to withdraw permits for the Keystone XL pipeline." She asks Biden to do the same to Line 3, currently in the process of being replaced with a larger pipe. She continues, "Under even the best-case scenarios for climate change, we cannot afford to build more fossil fuel infrastructure.”

If Team Biden really is operating under the assumption that killing Keystone has bought them some environmentalist good will, and that they don't have to sacrifice any more pipelines or jobs on the alter of Mother Gaia, they're in for a rude awakening. Mother Gaia's minions are insatiable. And their chief weapon is publicity.