Now that global warming is completely unravelling, I want to elaborate on a point I made a few blogposts back about the role of humanities graduates in this great debate.
On the face of it, their record isn’t good. Some of the most influential promulgators of climate nonsense have been arts graduates – among them Bryony Worthington (the FoE activist turned peer responsible for the Climate Change Act), the BBC’s Roger Harrabin and a fair few of the Guardian’s 2,800-strong Environment Department. I think future historians – looking back on this period of mass hysteria in which so many people were persuaded by and so much expensive, damaging policy was based on the largest confection of lies in junk science history – could put together a reasonably persuasive thesis that it was mainly the fault of scientist-manque arts graduates too easily impressed by men in white lab coats.
Against that, though, you’d have to set people like me and the Booker. Neither of us – as the Warmists like endlessly to remind us and taunt us – has a science degree; yet we’ve dedicated most of the latter part of our careers towards exposing the scam. And we’ve done so with confidence not because we’re scientists but, rather, precisely because we’re not scientists. I don’t want to upset the many scientists here present who make such fascinating and enlightening contributions to this blog, for which I am always (well unless they’re trolls from the UEA….) extremely grateful. But as I tried to explain the other day in my brief spat with Wattsy, this debate isn’t mainly about “the science” and it never was mainly about “the science.”
This is something most of my journalistic contemporaries – such the one whose irksome private correspondence I quoted in the first version of this blog before someone persuaded me this was dishonourable and that I should take it down – have failed to understand. Even now, I think, in the journalistic mainstream, the view remains that “climate change” is a scientific debate about man’s influence on global warming. And it so isn’t. What it really is is just another proxy conflict in the culture wars: between those who believe in limited government, low taxation, minimal regulation, personal responsibility, free markets and liberty on the one hand; and on the other those who believe in an ever-enlarging state (perhaps even to the point of One World Government), high tax, more regulation, and rule by an elite of technocrats and “experts” on the other. I argue this, as those of you who have read it will know, in Watermelons.
In his latest column the excellent Lawrence Solomon makes a similar point about scientists versus historians:
Many blame the public’s confusion over global warming on a widespread ignorance of science. A scientific grounding wouldn’t hurt but it also wouldn’t help much – few laymen, no matter how well informed, could be expected to follow the arcane climate change calculations that specialist scientists wield.
The much better explanation for the public’s confusion lies in a widespread ignorance of history, not least by scientists. Any child can understand that the Romans conquered the world when temperatures were warmer than today, that the Dutch invented the ice skates during the Little Ice Age five hundred years ago, and that melting glaciers off Newfoundland a century ago produced the iceberg that sunk the Titanic.
He’s dead right. We all have our part to play in the debate, humanities and science graduates alike. Our gravest mistake in this particular one, I think, has been to put far too much faith in scientists as arbiters of ultimate truth. We have elevated them to the status of priest, almost – as you can hear, for example, in the broadcaster’s reverential tone on the BBC every time he or she invokes the word “scientists”.
One of m’learned commenters (remind me and I’ll H/T you) traces the problem back to CP Snow’s 1959 Two Cultures lecture. Ever since arts graduates – note, eg, its effects on Melvyn Bragg’s career – have thought meanly of themselves for not having studied a proper science degree.
For years, I must say, I felt much the same about my own mere English Literature degree.
But not any more. Climategate and its aftermath changed all that. It’s not a science degree you need to negotiate the complexities of this tottering edifice of propaganda, tortured data, lies, misinformation, political wrangling, rampant greed, corporatist manoeuvring and establishment cover-ups: it’s the mental clarity you develop translating the Battle of Maldon, the powers of endurance you develop from reading the Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, and the critical nous you acquire while trying to understand what the hell Spenser was on about when he wrote the Faerie Queene.