How I became a climate sceptic

My journey from the first book to the second…

My earliest recollection of an environmental awareness dawning in me was when I was reading an Enid Blyton book, the name of which I cannot now recall – I must have been aged around seven or eight years old. It wasn’t one of the Five or Seven sequences, but within it there was a description of some children playing in the outside, beyond a wood, a long way from home (something that I did a lot in real life) and coming across some rubbish that had been left. I think it was paper wrappings rather than anything more foul, but from memory Blyton talks about the way in which the rubbish would remain, marring the environment. That situation struck me as a wrongness; this wasn’t an argument, just an instinct, a seed.

That seed only really started to grow after I had left school. First, and fundamentally, reading Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance helped me to put that instinct into a wider context. In particular, I still often find myself remembering a scene where Pirsig and his son cross over a highway, and look down on a traffic jam. The contrast between those two experiences of technology has always resonated with me; that is, I am fully convinced that the Buddha can be found within the pistons of an internal combustion engine! The point is to make the technology serve the human, not to conform the human to the Machine.

At University my understanding of the green perspective properly started to broaden out. Amongst many other books I was particularly influenced by Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Jonathan Porritt’s Seeing Green. This was also when I read The Limits to Growth; whilst I found that analysis plausible on an intellectual level, it didn’t grip me in the way that the other books did. For me being Green was about living in the world in a certain way, with a certain set of virtues and with a view towards harmonious and community-centred living (I was also getting to grips with liberation theology at this point). I wasn’t particularly politically involved (the reasons for that are a story for another time) but I remember knocking on doors and campaigning for Mike Woodin at one point.

When it came to deciding what to do after graduating I was tempted by academia – I have always been tempted by academia – but the lure of earning a living was stronger. Most of the commercial options had no appeal and I chose to further my environmental awareness by joining the Department of the Environment. Here I was involved right at the sharp end of environmental debate from the beginning, as my first job centred on the safety of nuclear power! Although the postings were only supposed to be for a year, my first one was extended in order for me to run the ‘THORP consultation’, which was fascinating, and I got to see green politics from the inside, both how decisions are made by No 10 and the Cabinet, but also how the external bodies and campaigning groups made (or didn’t) any impact (without going into details, I was massively more impressed by Friends of the Earth than by Greenpeace).

Whilst I stayed in the DofE for a few more years, and learned an immense amount, in 1995 I got ‘clobbered by God’ and my attention turned to vocational matters. All matters green started to take a back seat, and after much change and moving around, it was only in 2005 that I started to look again at environmental concerns. This was triggered by reading an article by Bryan Appleyard that introduced me to the issue of Peak Oil, and this became an abiding passion for me. From working on the nuclear industry I had developed some awareness of questions around power supply, and I remain very interested in questions around energy.

So this reawakened me to the analysis offered by the Limits to Growth perspective (Peak Oil is simply one facet of that, albeit, for me, the most salient) and my dormant green concerns now started to wake up again. At this time – as had been the case ever since I became aware of the issue after Thatcher’s speech in 1988 – I accepted the mainstream consensus around what was then called global warming. That was when I bought the Jeremy Leggett book illustrated at the top (in 1990). What I want to sketch out now is how I became more and more detached from that consensus, and now regard it as a bad religion, a form of insanity.

The first knock came when in 2007, via the excellent (sadly now moribund) website The Oil Drum, I came across the work of David Rutledge. Rutledge pointed out that the IPCC estimates for available fossil fuels took no account of the ‘Peakist’ perspective (peaking applies to all the fossil fuels, not just oil), and that the most alarming models were radically unrealistic. This was a surprise to me. As I found the scientific understandings around resource limits persuasive and ‘hard’ (ie grounded in solid data) this meant that there was, for the first time, a question mark against the IPCC. I was working on my book at this time, and I wasn’t sure whether to use as the precipitating challenge global warming or peak oil; discovering Rutledge’s work made the choice very easy.

More radical was the impact of Climategate in November 2009. The IPCC not taking the Peakist arguments into account I thought was a simple mistake, that would be corrected over time – an innocent assumption on my part. Climategate persuaded me that there were bad actors involved, Michael Mann foremost amongst them. As this was deeply challenging to my preconceptions I felt the need to dig into the details of this (and learned a lot about paleo-climatology in the process) and I particularly benefited from Andrew Montford’s writings. I go into some detail here, but the gist of my conclusion was simply that a) the Hockey Stick is very bad science, and b) the perpetuation of the Hockey Stick was not driven by scientific considerations but by social and cultural ones. I am persuaded that the understanding of historic temperatures that prevailed before the malign Dr Mann got involved is essentially correct, ie that there were previous warm periods in human history that reached higher temperatures than we now face (Minoan, Roman, Medieval warm periods).

This was an uncomfortable time for me in many ways. I remained (so I thought) within the overall environmental, green worldview, I was just more and more persuaded that the greens were making a great mistake in placing all their emphasis upon climate questions. I read a lot by people on all sides of the issue at this time, from Watts Up With That to Real Climate, and my principal take away was that reasoned argument was being lost beneath the politics, that is, the ‘scientific consensus’ was being enforced by social pressure and force – by bullying. The science simply wasn’t strong enough to win arguments on its own, so unethical behaviour had to be relied upon to make up the difference. Round about 2011 or so I settled on one main person to follow, who had earned my trust as someone who took a genuinely scientific approach to these questions: Judith Curry at her Climate Etc blog, and she is also interested in the philosophical aspects, which are my bailiwick. I still read a handful of others (Steve McIntyre, Roger Pielke) but I have stepped away from following all the detailed arguments.

Whilst I am open to further arguments on the technical questions, it is the wider sociological aspects that interest me now. I am persuaded that the present noise is essentially a bad religion, a conclusion that I had reached before coming across this book (which I have purchased but not yet read). When truth becomes subordinate to political questions, and those questions are shaped and structured by prior political interests, then the scientific discussion is compromised by human nature. That is, as I have argued more substantively elsewhere, good science is a subset of good religion. It is impossible to carry out good science without the context of a robustly embedded good ethic (= it is bad to falsify research), and that good ethic cannot subsist without a grounding in a religious, narrative framework (= ‘this is why it is bad to be bad’). It is not possible to be a good scientist without a sense of holiness (and, I suspect, it’s not possible to be a good scientist if your metaphysic is antithetical to the Christian worldview – I might go into that more on another occasion).

Why does this matter? For all my life I have had what I would now call an environmental concern, and I have often been either a member of the Green party, or a green member of another. I still think of myself as ‘green’, but what I see in the present Green movement seems insane, and not just about environmental questions. So in part, I wanted to tell this story in one place, so that I can refer to it in future. I sometimes think of myself as ‘a deep green climate sceptic’ – I remain convinced that we are in a state of overshoot, I’m sympathetic that we might be in an olduvai gorge situation, and we certainly have to reckon with the nature of the one-time ‘carbon pulse’ (we will go back to coal as we descend the down-slope). In particular our general cultural conversation is ‘energy blind’; most especially the ways in which, even now, investment in renewables is dependent upon the ready availability of fossil fuels, especially diesel, and the way in which our economy is influenced by the availability of oil (which was the underlying cause of the 2008 financial crisis). From my point of view the attention given to climate change is a great green herring.

This is slowly becoming obvious. When the bad science is only (literally and metaphorically) in the stratosphere, the ordinary person quietly ignores it. Now that it has triggered the idolatry of Net Zero it is beginning to impact upon most people’s daily life. When it gets to the point of saying ‘you must not heat your home because of climate change’ resistance gets stronger and the standard of evidence that the science has to meet becomes much more important. As that evidence doesn’t exist, the modern green movement is about to have its very own ‘Wile E Coyote moment’ and be left behind. Pointing out that the climate is changing is not enough (it clearly is); even pointing out that human activity is involved in that change is not enough (our behaviour does have an impact). It is the catastrophising which is the bad religion – and bad religion can only be overcome by good religion, not by the absence of religion at all.

Which is why, in the end, I’m a Christian not a green.

Here I stand, I can do no other; God help me.

On the use of this blog

I had thought I would keep this blog for more personal elements, and use my substack for longer opinion or essay pieces. That isn’t working. I’m also conscious of the need to keep some control over my published output, and this website is hosted by me (via GoDaddy) and it costs me, so as well as being more secure I want to get my money’s worth!

So going forward I’m going to publish all the substack essays here as well (and I’ll slowly add in on this site the ones I’ve published there already). I will also resume using this page for the more chatty, social media type elements. I’ve abandoned the media round-up, and deleted those posts. They weren’t adding anything of real value! But there will be a bit more of ‘me’ here; this will resume as my principal blog, my penseive. It might have some ‘meta’ commentary on my posts (especially the HTRI) stuff.

Going forward I am hoping to publish (via Kindle) two books this year, sourced principally from existing writing: a revised ‘2nd edition’ of Let us be Human, including additional material (including a chapter on Islam that I cut from the first edition), and a themed collection of my writings around national identity, especially Brexit, called ‘La La La’ – One Land, One Law, One Language. There might then be a third, next year, covering my writings on the CofE, working title of ‘Haunted by Herbert: Reflections from the front line of Parish Ministry’, and which will include some of the more autobiographical stuff here. That will require more work, hence the delay.

My writing output, especially my more personal stuff, is directly correlated with my peace of mind and heart and soul. That’s why the writing here fell off a cliff in the 2010s. It’s also why my writing in the last few years has taken off again, as my life is much more settled. This is about taking it further, and committing to it.

Here is something I’m listening to a lot at the moment, from James’ new album:

“Yet a simpler life is calling me
A spit of land, community
Can you come around and rescue me?
How blessed I am, your love to receive”

Living with lacunae

I’ve recently had cause to ponder situations where my need to understand something has been bouncing up against limits. Where it has become clear that there is no explanation to be had, that, instead, wisdom requires a living with the absence of an explanation – what philosophers call a lacuna, a gap in the understanding. I think this is healthy, but it has made me reflect on some areas in my life where I have come to what I now think of as premature certainty, a premature closing off of the gap, a refusal to live with the lacunae.

Two examples from the United States, as they are matters far from my daily life, and therefore quite clearly areas where there is no need for me to seek any certainty, where it is easiest.

The first is the collapse of WTC7. This does not make sense to me. The official explanation is that it was brought down by fire. The official explanation has been proven false. To an outside observer it looks very like a controlled demolition, but positing a controlled demolition requires a large amount of other hypotheses which very rapidly enter into the realms of madness. If I ponder this for too long then I end up in a place of extreme cognitive dissonance. So now I say: I don’t know what happened. I don’t understand what happened. It’s a gap.

The second is the 2020 election. I remember when it happened thinking that it was odd, and in particular I remember the fact that 18 of the 19 hitherto ‘bellwether’ counties had voted for Trump, so Biden winning in that context seemed very odd (the conventional explanation for that oddness is here). The ‘down the rabbit-hole’ explanation is here. Pondering the way in which US elections are carried out – and the role of the ‘voting machines’ – makes me think that, if there isn’t fraud, that is a result of divine grace rather than a robust system. I have no idea what the truth is. I don’t know what happened. I don’t understand what happened. It’s a gap.

I’m coming to see that desire for premature certainty as the high road to delusion (and also all sorts of conflicts), and I interpret it now in the light of lateral hemispheres. The desire for certainty is a sign of left-hemisphere capture, a hall of mirrors. Whereas sitting with paradox, with ignorance, with acknowledged lacunae – this is the way.

I am slowly becoming healthy again. Thanks be to God.

Russia’s little green men

So – I quite like playing Civilisation. Probably a bit too much. But one of the things that happens in the game, even when I want to play peacefully (win through culture or science or religion… normally the latter 🙂 is that I get attacked by another player. Which is fine, it is a fun part of the game.

But – assuming I win that fight, and as I get better at the game, that’s what happens more often – at the end of that conflict I have an army. Moreover, that army was expensively accrued, has accumulated lots of XP points, and is cheap to run, especially if they raid or pillage, in which case they become net positives on that asset score.

Of course, I could hold to my original intention and disband the army, but that would be quite a waste of resources.

I ponder this because the risk of Putin winning in the Ukraine is non-trivial (by winning I mean being allowed to continue in possession of some area of Ukrainian land). I think it’s non-trivial because the Western governing classes are generally crap, and because Putin can hold on until Trump comes in, and Trump… well, Trump is Trump. Europe needs to think about it’s own defence.

If Putin wins, he will have a large army. How will he play it?

I think Poland has already worked this out, and at least part of the UK defence establishment is fully on board. It feels like 1938 all over again 🙁

This is not a conflict in a far away land of which we know nothing. Putin has to lose, and be seen to lose. The sooner the better.

On needing to be opened by the wonderful

Help comes
When you need it most
I’m cured by laughter
Mood swings – not sure I can cope
My life’s in plaster (In plaster)

May your mind set you free (Be opened by the wonderful)
May your heart lead you on
May your mind let you be through all disasters (Be opened by the wonderful)
May your heart lead you on

These wounds are all self-imposed
Life’s no disaster
All roads lead onto death row
Who knows what’s after

May your mind be wide open
May your heart beat strong
May your minds will be broken
By this heartfelt song

(and this is a very good description of the left-brain’s need for the right-brain…)

Strengthening the centre

I’m more and more convinced that the most urgent political task of our time is to strengthen the centre against extremes. Which means people of good will coming together, not just affirming where they agree but also clarifying where they disagree, and the nature of that disagreement, and the bounds within which that disagreement functions.

In other words, a process to ‘de-demonise the Other’.

An example – I sometimes refer to myself as a ‘deep green climate sceptic’. The latter two words tend to trigger extreme responses, that eclipse the weight of the first two – which is why I’m persuaded that the argument is basically a religious one (recently bought this, but haven’t read it yet). Yet there is so much that might be agreed upon, and worked towards (eg around transport). Same applies to Brexit of course.

It’s as if we need to re-establish good disagreement (a nod towards Psybertron here, who has been saying this for quite some time) and the rules of civilised discourse. It’s OK to disagree. Of course I could be wrong. And so on.

Just today’s thoughts. I’ll do my best to work towards it.

So that was 2023

Well now. What a wonderful year. Can I have another one please?

A year of solid progression at work, and with the PhD.
A year in which I started writing properly again – outward facing stuff on the substack, personal musings here.
A year dominated by the sabbatical – and in which I listened to a lot of James!
A year in which I had some proper quality time with each of my children.
A year which finished with my getting engaged
God is good.
I am filled with optimism, excitement and determination for 2024. Avanti cosmos!

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022.

The only mercies in war

In the context of present crises I keep coming back to the thought that there are only two mercies in war: speed and clarity. In other words, a decisive victory for one side or the other. The worst thing in war is a conflict that never resolves, like a wound that never heals, that continues bleeding and suppurating for years.

So – however barbaric and detestable it might be – the removal of Armenians from the Karabakh region due to the swift military victory of Azerbaijan back in September, that was merciful. There are people alive now who would not have remained alive without the swiftness and certainty of that military victory. Life will carry on.

The opposite end of the spectrum is, of course, Israel. I wonder what would have happened if – at various points – the Israeli government had simply said ‘sod it’ and genuinely carried out some ethnic cleansing, in the way that Azerbaijan has. I rather suspect that the overall suffering would have been less in recent decades, for all sides. Instead, in an attempt to be ‘good’ and to win the good graces of all interlocutors, the great un-endable conflict increases and immiserates all involved.

Perhaps Israel needs a bit more of the Old Testament Heart…