I thank LeftOutside for introducing me to this topic.
I think the following is clearly true:
- For a great proportion of our scientific beliefs, we have to rely on a long-established consensus. For example, I ‘believe’ that a hydrogen atom has a proton and an electron because I have been told by a huge consensus, it sort of makes sense, and I trust the consensus. I have perceived and reasoned in no way that is connected to the proposition being true. For views on evolution, the Holocaust, whether transfats cause cancer, or carbon dioxide causes global warming, no single person can themselves compile enough evidence. You need to rely on scientists who themselves rely on more scientists.
- Conspiracy theorists seldom or never have enough data for their views, but rely on a profound belief in the bad faith of their opponents. This is a sort of heroic arrogance – ‘I alone in my living room have worked out how misled thousands of others are’. 99% of the time, they are wrong; 1%, we are talking Galileo
- However, people often form opinions, or choose which ‘consensus’ to trust, on the basis of feelings. This works particularly well in a negative way; if you really hate X and X believes something important, then proclaiming it as untrue gives enormous pleasure. This happens whether X is some braying redfaced foxhunter or sanctimonious good for nothing leftie student.
No-one can have a native ‘feeling’ about climate change. I can’t feel how hot it is in the atmosphere around the planet, although if I were a spectacular idiot I might make inferences from London’s weather this January. I can’t have a feel for the heat stored in the oceans, and even if I could tell through my T-shirt that things were warmer, worldwide, I would still lack the ability to determine causes. I would need a huge apparatus of scientific expertise and equipment even to come close, as well as similarly large body of theory.
So my belief that it is happening is based upon trust. Trust that the vast scientific consensus is not either (a) incompetent in an amazing synchronized way or (b) somehow corrupted so that they have a huge incentive to conspire and lie about something so important. Trust, too, that politicians with mostly far greater access to the science than I are not totally ****ing mad and determined to crater the economy for 40 years just for the fun of it.
But some of my opinions come from the last bullet point, above – hatred of the others. The deniers – individually and in a group – seem obnoxious, selfish and wrong (read any commenter to a Janet Daley blogpost). At the same time, the deniers are clearly motivated by a similar hatred themselves. Their antagonists are sometimes eager haters of capitalism, sanctimonious, and plain irritating.
And frankly as Islamists love death and Americans love Coca Cola so I thrive on the hatred of Guardian readers.
This is admirably honest. If temperatures rose 5 degrees, Mont Blanc sprouted palm trees and Simon Heffer joined the Green party, Delingpole would still be doing what he’s doing, because Guardianistas obligingly hate him for it, and that is his motivation. Moreover, the controversy helps him sell books and remain on the Telegraph payroll. Come on- it’s not because he has access to superior theory, superior evidence, or insight into the motivations of his antagonists.
So, too, to some degree, does George Monbiot. If by some freak the scientific consensus was wrong, and the Maldives froze over, Monbiot would no doubt stick to his guns for an indecent long time, freezing all the way. Getting under the skins of the angry Range Rover driving trolls must motivate him. He’s human too. But he also has far more science and a decent understanding of conspiracy theoriesthan Delingpole.
Once such a division has been created, it turns into something like the Liliputians arguing about which end of the egg to break – insoluble, driven by passion and resentment. This is clearly very bad news, because the amount at stake here is far greater. Amongst the Conservatives, climate denialism is no doubt becoming a way of solidifying the tribal vote. The letter-writing campaign organised to squeeze out such views is not going to make them unpopular. Scorning lefties, like riding horses over hunt protesters, is becoming a badge of honour.
The oddest thing is that those of us who believe in AGW are left hoping it is true, so as to satisfy our need to scorn our enemies. Don’t some of you hope for a really hot 2010, to stick one up the Delingpoles of this world? ClimateHate gone mad – because given what a catastrophe global warming (probably) is, no-one should be hoping for it.