Climate Change as a religion?


the fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery

We’ve lost our fear of hellfire, but put climate change in its place

I used to have a mother-in-law called Gaia, so any book called The Revenge of Gaia is likely to cause a flutter of panic in my breast; and by the time I had finished the new best-seller by green prophet James Lovelock, I am afraid I was in a state of brow-drenched hysteria.

The good news is that the Gaia in question is not my ex-mother-in-law. The bad news is that she represents a chthonic deity even more capable of vengeance upon errant mankind. Gaia is the Earth herself; she is Mother Nature; she taps her foot in ever-growing impatience at the antics of our species; and, according to Professor Lovelock, she is about to exact the most terrifying punishment for our excesses. She is about to get carboniferous on our ass.

Lovelock has been studying climate change since the 1960s. He has been described by the New Scientist as one of the great thinkers of our age, and he was made a Companion of Honour in 2003. He knows his onions, and, indeed, how much moisture they require.

He has been around the world looking at the rising tidelines, sniffing the smoke from the burning rainforest, listening to the roar of the ice-melt from the glaciers, and he has come to the conclusion that the climate change lobby has got it hopelessly wrong.

We delude ourselves, says Lovelock, if we think that the global temperature is going to rise in small increments over the next century. We are like the blindfolded crew of a boat approaching Niagara Falls, and there will come a moment when the temperature will rise with all the equivalent vertical horror. Some time in the next hundred years, he says, it is suddenly going to get hotter and hotter and hotter.

“Billions will die,” says Lovelock, who tells us that he is not normally a gloomy type. Human civilisation will be reduced to a “broken rabble ruled by brutal warlords”, and the plague-ridden remainder of the species will flee the cracked and broken earth to the Arctic, the last temperate spot, where a few breeding couples will survive.

It is going to be a “hell of a climate”, he says, with Europe 8C warmer than it is today; and the real killer, says Lovelock, is that there is not a damn thing we can do about it. We are already pumping out so much carbon dioxide, with no prospect of abatement from the growing economies of China and India, that our fate is sealed.

We in Britain produce only two per cent of the world’s carbon output and, even if we closed down British industry overnight; even if we abolished the winter fuel allowance and ordered the pensioners to wear more sweaters; even if we forested the entire country with windfarms, it would make not a bean of difference.

It would be like trying to cool a volcano with an ice cube. The Kyoto protocol; the climate change levy; the windows and doors regulation – they are all as pointless as telling a patient with terminal lung cancer that he should give up smoking.

And when the Great Heat has destroyed our industry, and wrecked civilisation, it will get worse, says Lovelock. Because then we will lose the aerosol of dust and smog that has kept out some of the sun’s rays; and it will get hotter still.

There is nothing for it, he says, but to forget the piffling Kyoto-led regulation, and build nuclear power plants, so as not to be dependent on Russian gas, and send bodies of fit young men and women to East Anglia, there to build levees against the coming inundations. An international solution is now beyond our reach, he says, and we must look to Britain first.

Phew-ee. Is Lovelock right? I haven’t the faintest; but as I listen to his Mad Max-style vision of the coming century, I find my mind bubbling with blasphemous thoughts.

Wasn’t it pretty hot in the 10th century? Didn’t the Romans have vineyards in Northumberland? And is it really so exceptionally hot in modern Europe? According to yesterday’s paper, Lisbon has just had its first heavy snowfall for 52 years. What’s that about?

I feel I cannot possibly disagree with Lovelock, or with the overwhelming body of scientists who attest to the reality of climate change. I am sure that they are, in some sense, right; and it feels instinctively true that we are a nasty, over-polluting species; and there is something horrifying, when you look at those pictures of the world at night, to see the phosphorescent sprawl of humanity.

But the more one listens to sacerdotal figures such as Lovelock, and the more one studies public reactions to his prophecies, the clearer it is that we are not just dealing with science (though science is a large part of it); this is partly a religious phenomenon.

Humanity has largely lost its fear of hellfire, and yet we still hunger for a structure, a point, an eschatology, a moral counterbalance to our growing prosperity. All that is brilliantly supplied by climate change. Like all the best religions, fear of climate change satisfies our need for guilt, and self-disgust, and that eternal human sense that technological progress must be punished by the gods.

And the fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery, and you can never tell whether your acts of propitiation or atonement have been in any way successful. One sect says we must build more windfarms, and these high priests will be displeased with what Lovelock has to say. Another priestly caste curses the Government’s obsession with nuclear power – a programme Lovelock has had the courage to support.

Some scientific hierophants now tell us that trees – trees, the good guys – are the source of too much methane, and are contributing to global warming. Huh? We in the poor muddled laity scratch our heads and pray. Who is right? Who is wrong?

If Lovelock is only half-right, then we must have an immediate programme to pastoralise the global economy and reduce emissions. The paradox is that, if he is completely right, there is not a lot we can do, and we might as well enjoy our beautiful planet while we can.

Or is he completely wrong? To say that would be an offence not just against science, but against a growing world religion.

100 thoughts on “Climate Change as a religion?”

  1. Dear Borris,

    Thank you for putting forward your views and the unpopular facts of others on this important and difficult topic.

    What strikes me greatly by your article and many in the recent press is how we seem to have lost our imagination. The facts illustrated by Professor Lovelock are indeed chilling, but what surprises me is that no one has the courage to put forward the obvious, inevitable and in my opinion only solution to the problem.

    However you look at things, fundamentally we are only temporary tenants of Earth. We as a race need to move out of our safe Petri dish environment and explore the suburbs of the galaxy to find a new place to live. This is inevitable.

    In 250 years time it is estimated that would have a population close to 60 Billion humans as opposed to today’s 4-ish billion. Who is going to feed and provide water for these individuals? It is certainly beyond the capabilities of a planet like Earth! The truth is understandably hard to accept and government does not seem to be able to deal with this concept. More than 4 years ahead? Then why bother? Not my problem mate. It was this way when I got here etc…..

    I suggest this is everyone’s problem. Unless we put our efforts into “moving-on” rather than trying in vain to save an insolvent planet with no long-term prospects, we will find ourselves unable to do what must eventually be done because we have spent all our resources on frivolous pursuits (such as air-conditioning and bombs)

    Yours truly,

    Ed.D

  2. That’s not exactly different to politics then, when the ordinary voter listens to those who preach a global free market, or a stated owned transport system or how evil the French are. For every expert or politician that says one thing you will find another that will take the opposite stance.

    I’ve always asked was religion a way to enforce behaviour wanted by society? Was the threat of a fire laden doom used to cower people into acting for the benefit of society? Religion, politics and now climate change will use the stick rather than the carrot because it works.

    Who is right, who is wrong, who knows; heck we’re living in a world where your glorious leader has made it into a list of the top 100 sexiest men. That, at least, provides an example of where “experts” are very very wrong …. 🙂

  3. Boris makes a good point. Of course, so did Nietzche. When we cease to worship the old gods, they die and whatever we worship becomes the new god. So, what do we worship?

    Ourselves.

    This means that the sustainability of the human species and culture is the highest goal. And Lovelock, whose original book The Gaia Hypothesis I have read, is well aware of that. I can’t blame him for playing the world’s heartstrings like some flamenco guitar. It’ll sell books, it’ll get them read, and it will make people think. Worthy goals.

    Lovelock isn’t a hysteria artist by nature; The Gaia Hypothesis is reasoned and, ultimately, optimistic. Guess he’s had to do a re-think, and credit to him for not shying away from correcting himself.

    Decades ago Stephen Jay Gould showed that evolution doesn’t happen at an even pace, but rather in jumps and discontinuities; he hypothesized that the changes were the results of climate change or other environmental change, and that when things change they change fast, including the nature of species. So Lovelock’s new thesis matches up very nicely with something that has entered the realm of accepted wisdom. The core of the Gaia hypotheis itself is that the Earth is a self-correcting mechanism which self-corrects without regard to any particular species. Things die out and are born as they are appropriate and contribute positively to Gaia itself, the ecosphere. I guess Lovelock now thinks we’re going to be expended a lot faster than he assumed, so this is a refinement, rather than a new idea.

    Naturally, framing it as The Demonic Planet Bent on the Destruction of Humanity is going to get some headlines, but this was all implicit in the original text twenty years ago. Lovelock is also no fool when it comes to nomenclature: Gaia needn’t be a theistic entity to be a god. Maybe we’re talking Azathoth rather than Satori, but the concept of the eternal has resonance and, in comparison to the span of human life, the planet can be considered eternal.

  4. Boris.
    What is your policy on the environment?
    If it can be proved that action is needed, and that legislation is needed to curb the excesses of both the corporate world and the private citizen, will you invoke it, or will you, like the Conservative party to date, refuse to interfere with the business world, and try to get us to believe that they are capable of regulating themselves, and if allowed to do so will automatically arrive at an ecologically sound solution?

  5. Whether the excellent Mr Lovelock is right or not about the imminence of the plug pulling on profligate Mankind, surely it is time for someone: anyone;everyone ; to listen to the Earth herself.

    She is being almost unilaterally overwhelmed by the greedy and self serving few, each one vying with the other to drive the greatest number, per family, of the biggest, thirstiest, most atmospherically polluting vehicles imaginable. .Incidentally, why DO so many people buy the 10 mpg 4 WD off the road vehicles just to take the offspring to school: please don’t answer , “ Because they can “: That is just too pitiful.

    The worst offender , as an individual nation, as I write, is the good old U S of A. Imagine! A mere 4% of the Earth’s population churning out 25% of gaseous pollutants; this is the true picture, and an ugly one to boot.

    Their President ignores the bigger picture of the world’s possible, even probable , demise, in favour of a more parochial view.” Never mind the World, we are OK”, and they will , unless an enlightened President(?) gets the message, will continue to slash and burn their way through the remaining oil reserves, finally , until inevitably too late , as in those tear jerking movies, they see the error of their ways.
    .

    Next: no, not even next:NOW; along come the most populous countries on Earth; China and sun Continental India, with their burgeoning, low production cost industry, which is growing exponentially year on year, egged on by the cost awareness of Western big business. When that fact is coupled with the perfectly rational demand for a rise in local living standards, thus triggering even more demand; one has a recipe for an accelerated global disaster. The combined total of their inhabitants will exceed that of the USA by a factor if about 10. If they pollute by the same excessive amounts as the good old boys of America, in a very short time we will be poisoned, as surely as eggs are eggs.

    This recipe has been prepared, by the human race itself, and if it is allowed to be become fully baked, will spell the end of the human race, and I believe that, in his or her heart of hearts, everyone knows.

    As the Carpenter said to the Oysters.
    “O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
    “You’ve had a pleasant run!
    Shall we be trotting home again?’
    But answer came there none–
    And this was scarcely odd, because
    They’d eaten every one.( Sorry, Lewis C.)

    I see this as a parallel with the subject of the thread

  6. Naturally, framing it as The Demonic Planet Bent on the Destruction of Humanity is going to get some headlines

    The Independent ran it on its front page a few weeks back, with two whole pages of reports, plus a grim op-ed by the green guru himself – much to my annoyance. What is the point of informing us of something we can do nothing about?

    Lovelock may have been studying all this for years, but that doesn’t make him an expert. The real answer to this question, as with so many questions, is that we simply don’t know.

    It’s not the only doom-laden scenario out there. There is another one, which has it that global warming will act to melt Greenland glaciers, and the resulting melt water will disrupt the Gulf Stream that warms our shores, and induce a new ice age.

    Indeed, records show that there have been a whole series of ice ages over the past million or so years, with brief interglacial periods in between, one of which we are now living in.

    So which is it: roast or freeze? We don’t know, but we will find out in due course, and we will respond. I suggest that we take all these multifarious prophets of doom with a very large pinch of salt, and simply take things as they come.

    Oh, and smoke cigarettes, drink whisky, and go on holidays.

  7. Whether or not we do have an adverse effect on our climate, I still think that it is prudent to move to renewable sources of energy and be more considerate to our environment.

    For one thing, we wouldn’t have to rely on other countries for our energy. This would release us from the strings that bind and, at times, silence us from criticising other governments for fear of retribution. We’d also be less susceptible to increases in inflation due to the fluctuations in the price of oil.

    On the question of environmental care, we could do more to stop rainforests being cut down and halt the ever-increasing industrial and housing belts that threaten to take over our green and pleasant land. It takes ten seconds to cut down a tree, but a few hundred years to grow it again.

    p.s. I’m no raving green-fingered lunatic, just sensible. 🙂 Like everything in life, it’s all a question of balance.

  8. Stop clowning about climate change Boris!

    Today, on Member of Parliament Boris Johnson’s blog:

    A rant about The Revenge of Gaia, the book in which John Lovelock warns of a climatic apocalypse:
    Phew-ee. Is Lovelock right? I haven’t the faintest; but as I listen to his Mad Max-st…

  9. the enviro-religionists do not just confine their doom mongering and hellfire to climate change. Peak Oil, cars & GE are also targets for tormented self flagellation of the evils of mankind. Having been exposed to the hypocrisy and contradiction of traditional religion they are eagerly looking for something new and unexplained to fear & torment themselves with. Macarnie would seem to be a member of the genus enviroreligionist

  10. Hey, hey, hey, I used to work for Greenpeace; them’s fightin’ words!

    Oil and cars are simply different chapters in the book Global Warming. And yeah, we did actually bring this upon ourselves although, if you want to take the metaphor that far (and I do; who among us cannot say the same?) we were in a state of innocence at the time, so perhaps our parents are like those pagan babies and we’re more like the damned. And if you ask them, that’s quite true.

  11. Saganz: Sorry to disappoint you , but my slant on the world is not from the enviroreligionist camp, I do assure you. I am merely a realist. If the latest predictions from those whom we know as climate change theorists are anything to go by, and I believe they are, it is already too late to do much about climate change.

    To quote a 13th century old English round, which seems to give us an idea of the possibility of the warm times ahead: for some, it will be perpetual, relentless summer .

    Sumer is icumen in,
    Lhude sing cuccu!
    Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
    And springth the wude nu-
    Sing cuccu!

    Awe bleteth after lomb,
    Lhouth after calve cu;
    Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
    Murie sing cuccu!

    Cuccu, cuccu, well singes thu, cuccu:
    Ne swike thu naver nu;
    Sing cuccu, nu, sing cuccu,
    Sing cuccu, sing cuccu, nu!

    Swike = cease
    Sterteth = leaps
    The cuckoo’s habits are too well known to need explanation here.

  12. Dear Boris,

    I can remember where I was and what I was doing as a teen-adult when I first heard a radio broadcast announcing the demise of our ozone layer the way some people remember where they were when a certain American President was assasinated.

    Now, I don’t know if others can say the same or this is something that marks my own individuality but I also recall growing up over the time period when the hole widened as well. It is disconcerting to think that just as the main damage is being “repaired” due to lower emissions, science suggests that these other types of global events are on the horizon.

    Will normal patterns be misread to fit this new template merely to match expectation and provide further “proof” to support the theory?

    I also once recall reading that the combination of a hole in the ozone layer and global warming posed a veritable double threat to the health of the planet.

    So I wonder how much mention is made of ocean currents, El Nina and the ozone hole are made in the book. It sounds pretty informative.

    There was already lots of doom and gloom to go around, from a 70’s book called “The Late Great Planet Earth” to Dianetics to organized religion, to slavish Bible devotionalee’s who have been predicting the end for years….and now gaia prophecies?

    Look, in the sky, its a bird, its a plane…no!- its an unstoppable radiocative asteroid cloud headed for earth.

    We now
    each have the equivalent left of a dogs life…enjoy!

  13. Ahh Boris I would have hoped for more optimism from you. Sure we can’t very well, with our little knowledge of the subject, blindly ignore/refute the claims made by these scientists. We can, however, point out that the biggest single failing in virtually all these areas research is that people rarely offer the possibility of mankind adapting to the changing planet.

    We have people living in extreme temperatures all over the world. From the baking hot equator-line inhabitants to the supremely happy Icelandic and Alaskan populations. We have people living in areas ravaged regularly by flooding (myself included), by hurricanes, people living at the bottom of volcanoes, populations living in areas prone to earthquakes. Throughout all of this each individual area has learnt to make the necessary adaptations to their lives so as to live with the earth’s destructive forces, but also to not let it rule everything about their lives.

    The green religion, as with most religions, will only offer salvation to those who live by its rules, it would never accept the idea that we could adapt to our changing world, or that there may be some benefits to this new climate (it would be entirely improbable if such a change was to be 100% bad for humanity).

    This new religion will, i’m sure, turn out to have many of its proclamations proven true, but as with an addicted-gambler they will only shout about their winnings, and never consider the numerous times they got it wrong.

  14. Regardless of whether one is a tree-hugging hippy or a bloated plutocrat, surely everyone has a stake in the future? After all, we’ll all be living in it.

    Surely the prudent course of action is to tread carefully. It doesn’t take a degree in Environmental Science to read the ever-increasing figures for fossil fuel consumption and toxic emissions. Yet we in the developed world continue to consume like there’s no tomorrow. Look at the increasing number of Chelsea tractors on our roads – effectively a middle-class badge of proud wastage. And let’s all jet off around the world for our holidays – even flying to Paris when there’s a perfectly good train service. Winter coming? Crank up the central heating to sauna levels! Buy loads of unnecessary manufactured consumer goods – just because the Sunday supplements say they are “must-have” items this season!

    I seem to live in charity and secondhand shops these days, gathering up the unwanted items of our disposable society. I’m typing this on a modern computer, but with other people’s cast-off monitor, scanner and speakers and a 14-year-old printer. Funnily enough, all this antique, unhip stuff works fine. I’ll replace things if and when they break, not because they’re no longer cool. In what way is my kit inferior? None at all.

    Of course, whatever we do on an individual level is an insignificant drop in the ocean compared to what industry could do. But I’m sick of hearing people bleat that out as an excuse to do nothing that would impinge on their standard of living.

    Enough people rant on that “charity starts at home” whenever the needs of the developing world are brought to our attention. Funnily enough, the same people are often the last to say that saving the planet starts at home. Well, it’s got to start somewhere. Maybe if we consumed less – i.e. put less money into the hands of industry – they might get the message and start cleaning up their act.

    Well, it’s a thought.

  15. We are in the middle of a mass extinction event. The first ever mass extinction event brought about by a species becoming TOO successful.

    Eat, drink, and be merry – for we have already cast our mould. The end is nigh!!!

    (WARNING!!! For those thinking of taking to the hills…i’m already there, and i’m not feeling friendly!)

  16. Cute argument, Boris. Now anyone concerned about the environment can be painted as a religious nut, and the clods that operate in the global economy will be able to carry on as they always have, placing personal remuneration entirely above human need.

    Terrific.

    Except concern for our environment is not a religion. It’s just plain old boring common sense. I think you’ll find that the fact that it was rather hot in the tenth century is neither here nor there – it’s the ACCELERATION of temperature change that should concern us. And when your vehicle accelerates out of control, you need to brake.

    How you brake is another matter. But casting around for pseudo-arguments that place all the blame on the shoulders of the Chinese isn’t going to help any more than Lovelock did. Just because everybody else is behaving like a self-serving idiot doesn’t mean you have to as well. If our society here in the UK is sophisticated enough to manage our own pollution, then it simply isn’t good enough to wait for everybody else to do it all at once, purely on the basis that if we cut back we won’t be able to ‘compete in the global economy’, whatever that mealy-mouthed form of words means. Presumably ‘we won’t be able to carry on being greedy like everybody else.

    We’ve led by example in the past. What the hell’s stopping us doing it again?

    Politics?

    Then get new politicians.

  17. Ordinarily, if a chap strode up to me and announced that he had foreseen the future, that damnation was at hand, and that I needed to repent of my Mephistophelic ways, I’d tell him that Reverend Thomas has got me covered and that he ought to try recruiting elsewhere.

    The odd thing is, this sort of thing happens to me every day now – except that it is the press which is carrying the news, as opposed to some wild-eyed evangelical.

    A cursory inspection of message boards and communities around the web reveals that the religion which Boris describes has many extremely zealous converts. Both the zeal of these believers and their ‘solutions’ scare my trousers off.

    The Director of the British Antarctic Survey has gone so far as to state that the world’s population ought to be reduced to 2-3 billion, so that there’s enough space for those remaining to live sustainably. That sort of chat rings a few bells – although the last time I heard similar talk it was from a little Austrian chap, so he used “Lebensraum” rather than “space”.

    The other solutions aren’t quite so final, but they are equally dramatic. We must produce less, consume less, and travel less, and when we do produce or consume or travel we must do so in a fashion which is much slower and involves tie-drying.

    However, lest I question the apocalyptic demands placed upon me, I am informed that I cannot argue against this, as it is the product of science. Scientifically, we have proven the future, and must therefore alter the present.

    Hang on, says I, I’m pretty sure that science is the rational explanation of the present and the past. Isn’t predicting the future called Clairvoyance?

    Aha, say the converts, we’ve got models, they were made by professional people, and they were designed specifically to show what the world will be like in 100 years. So it’s science.

    Says I: I too have used models, although mine rather more prosaically predicted whether people would pay me back money I lent them. My models started out disastrously inaccurate. Fortunately, every day I got results about where the model was going wrong. After ironing out all of the ways that the model typically went wrong, it became rather accurate. But it did go wrong tens of thousands of times. So, when will you be able to test and refine your model?

    Says they: in 100 years time we will be 100% certain of whether it was right or not. It is one of the paradoxes of the machine: we think it works, but we can’t test it for a century or so. The machine’s primary function is to convince people to change its prediction, so if the machine works properly we will be able to show this by the fact that what it originally predicted hasn’t happened. In the interim, we reserve the right to call you rude names if you question our logic.

    In other news, Reverend Thomas nearly popped his clogs the other day. It turns out that good old St John Divine recommends we keep an eye out on the shore, in case a ten horned beast turns up. When photographs of the world’s smallest fish – P. spiniceps – were recently published, he was scared out of his wits. Fortunately, close inspection reveals that Mrs Spiniceps has a mere 5 horns.

  18. It may be small start… but see
    http://www.atsltd.co.uk/

    This is a website about British-developed PRT – personal rapid transport – a system that can move people about at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods, at speed and in privacy.

    There are detractors who will tell you about weaknesses in the system, but these can be ironed out. Of greater concern are the local politicians who refuse to consider PRT for reasons including “it has not proved itself to be consistent with our integrated transportation policy and greater use of bus lanes”.

    Worse still – someone will no doubt correct me if I have this wrong – cost analysis of any major improvement to the road or rail network has to take account of the loss of revenue to the Exchequer caused by the lower fuel consumption. How crazy is that?

    Isambard Kingdom, where are you? Buried under the Health & Safety rulebook, I guess.

    Incidentally, I am not connected with this organisation in any way except as a fascinated voyeur.

  19. I have never seen any evidence of Bozza reading the comments here. I suspect that he is too busy writing his own stuff to bother with the warblings of those of us with nothing better to do.
    Perhaps the lovely Melissa can draw his attention to the request I issued earlier to clarify his position on the conflict between care for the environment and the interests of big business.
    Does he see all of those who campaign for a cleaner planet as loony tree-hugging, knit-your-own-yoghurt, drug-crazed quasi religious fanatics, as the inference has been drawn from his article, or is he going to ensure, as future environment minister, that the excesses of the polluters are going to be legislated against?
    Vicus Scurra.
    Green voting, tree-hugging, yoghourt-knitting, religious fanatic. (off the drugs for quite some time).

  20. Vicus – amen (if you’ll pardon the expression, not meant in any religious sense whatsoever).

    Melissa – Vicus has a point. What do we have to do to get a response out of Boris? Maybe not EVERY post, but the occasional summary would be interesting.

    PaulD – thank you for pointing out PRT. It looks like an interesting solution. Sadly, it’s not just lazy politicians (local and national) who might turn out to be resistant. It’s also the great and glorious British public. The tricky part for a lot of us might be the fact that you have to get yourself from your house to the PRT Stop. Yuck. Cold? Rain? Walking? Much easier to just hop into my over-heated stress-inducing obesity-building three-quarters empty pollutemobile instead.

    Besides, I wouldn’t want to disappoint the car manufacturers’ shareholders, now would I?

    (Fades to a chorus of ‘look at that yoyo, that’s the way to do it, money for nothin, get your kicks for free…’)

  21. Well said Mark!

    Do we have to compete in the global economy? Couldn’t most of us do with less cars, heating, plane trips and so on?

    It rather seems to me that as the first legitimate function of the state is defence of the realm then there is a perfectly good open society argument for intervention, since if we all bake or freeze to death then the realm, in any meaningful sense, is pretty much screwed.

    How do we get new politicians? I’m afraid only by the normal means. I woudl be wary of a Committee for Public Safety against Global Warming having a coup.

    To use a phrase of yours – time to emerge from our comfort zones. It would be handy if we could do this all round. For example that Scandewegian sceptical environmentalist Bjorn Lomberg seems pretty sensible to me so maybe some of the more messianic greens could embrace pragmatism.

    I don’t subscribe to hair shirtism which suggests that suffering is good in itself but I really think most of us could be as happy or happier with less. Fewer wants make you richer.

    How do we sell it? Not with a load of bossy boots who put people’s backs up. Nor with an environmental religion. I can’t see that those would work without a high degree of psychological or physical oppression.

  22. Jack R:
    As with all simple remedies, the one almost universally seen as acceptable is to use less oil; coal; gas or other agents of pollution. How to implement this Utopian dream is the question.
    Here beginneth the first lesson in self flagellation.

    No more DVT inducing cheap paraffin pigeon flights to some nowhere or other, which we in turn pollute; no overheated homes in winter, and no roads blocked at peak times by pollutant belching, six bass speaker, mobile sound factories, the 4WDs.

    We would probably all vote for their introduction , but would we be first in the queue, for the electrically driven, multi-compartment bus , and in the rain ? In winter , heaven forfend.
    Would we prefer a fortnight’s sunshine deprivation at Bridlington , or even in your neck of the woods, Gt.Yarmouth, with or without Jim Davison?
    I think not.

  23. Mac

    You’ve asked the wrong fellow here! I would infinitely prefer a week by the grey North Sea to the horrors of a day wasted in agony travelling to an airport, hanging around, flying to some place where you have to take your own Assam, hassling with the car hire company, driving along ghastly roads to spend six days trying to keep cool before repeating in reverse. But She Who Must Be Obeyed has the final say and I am but a worm.

    Mainly I do get the bus to work because we have only one car and the memsahib requires it to earn her half of the daily crust. I guess we could just about afford another but even if we were rolling in the stuff I am averse to us having another. It’s not guilt but a matter of conscience. I don’t need it just to save the inconvenience of going on the bus.

    Having said that it would help to have the equivalent of air marshals on the buses. You get some pretty nasty types from time to time and I don’t just mean me. And no bloody bus radios blaring out Blunt James and Young Will!

  24. (Please note: this post has nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of religion, real or imagined).

    A very very very long time ago, before most of us were born, this country played a rather important part in the Second World War. Recognising the seriousness of the situation, and the implacability of a genuinely terrifying enemy, the government of the day quite rightly subjected the UK’s citizens to rather severe ‘lifestyle’ restrictions.

    Nobody complained, much. Shallow baths, powdered egg, food rationing, no foreign holidays, etc: to a man (and woman), we pretty much got on with it.

    And it worked.

    Seems to me that now we’re up against a common enemy of a different kind. There are no tanks massing at Calais; but we are drowning in garbage and there’s sufficient evidence that the world is warming up rather too fast.

    We COULD wait for the rest of the world to agree with us before we do anything, or we could make a pragmatic and moral decision to put our house in order first.

    It’d cost us, no doubt. We’d slip down the pecking order in the global economic ‘race’ (don’t we just LOVE this competitive claptrap language?). We’d hold onto our cars for longer, and reward those who drove smaller ones, and have to take holidays in Margate. We’d probably eat less exotic food, but we’d also eat a lot less pre-processed rubbish and live longer as a result. We’d need to develop more efficient recycling systems. We’d probably have to bite the bullet on nuclear power, but at the same time we’d realise the need for immediate and appropriate investment in renewables. We’d have to learn to catch buses and trains and trams, but the mere fact of doing that would mean more investment in comfortable and efficient bus and train and tram systems. The bicycle industry would receive a boost. More of us would work at home, and put on a sweater occasionally. Our politicians would feel less important when they journeyed to exotic foreign summits (they might even have to go a bit lighter on their expense accounts), but we would no longer feel the need to maintain nuclear weapons. Our industries would have to diversify into products that had meaning for local markets first, and which added value to our environmental stock. And we’d no longer be tempted to go to war in places we’d never heard of just to prove that we once had an empire and were the most important nation on earth.

    Now you can witter about the need to ‘compete’ to your heart’s content; and you can clutter up the debate as Boris has done. You can pick over the science for decades on end and never know how much of it is funded by vested interest; but there is good science out there and even if only half of it is right something has to be done. You can say ‘not my problem, Guv’ till you’re blue in the face, but it IS your problem – and it will be a bigger problem for your children, and a living nightmare for your grandchildren.

    We elect governments to lead. Sometimes (as in the Second World War) this might mean making decisions that constrain our inflated lifestyles; and possibly even jeopardise the votes that got them elected in the first place. But any politician who’s unwilling to take that risk when the situation demands it doesn’t deserve to have been elected in the first place.

    Sorry, folks. A bit serious for an idle Saturday morning. This stuff matters.

  25. Uh, fair enough. I live n Vancouver, which is generally asumed to be Ground Zero of the low-impactisphere. And I used to work for Greenpeace.

    Lots of people do use bikes for transportation, even though these sinister contraptions eat their pants. Nasty.

  26. Sure this is not a case of fiddling while Rome burns? Or to be more precise, fiddling around with some eco-piffle while free speech is being burnt at the stake?

    Why no article on the great issue of our day? Is this still a free country? Or must a Briton be a slave to another’s capacity to take offence?

    Why no counter campaign – BUY DANISH! THERE AIN’T NOTHING LIKE A DANE! KEEP DENMARK FREE! STOP WAILING NOW!

  27. Field: Your comment opens up endless opportunities for the odd remark about the case you have in mind.

    I would have thought that such furums as this one were a guarantee that speech is still one of our few remaining freedoms. Incidentally , why does Denmark have to carry the can? Their press’s ” sin” was a long time ago.

    I heard a Moslem MP on radio 4 today , soundly condemning the reactions of the rabid fundamentalists of his religion. The trouble with the Public at large is that it is prone to listen to the loudest bark, and imagine it is the biggest dog making the noise. We should bark even louder. Whilst the opposite is not totally unknown, barking dogs seldom bite.

    We have politicians who kow- tow to every minority, whilst ignoring the wishes of the majority. It is time they realised just who pays their inflated wages.

  28. Can’t support any kind of Buy Danish movement while they are involved in hostile occupation of Canadian territory. Sorry, all you many Danish readers, but that’s just how it is. Get the hay-ell off our frozen rock.

  29. Is this still a free country? Or must a Briton be a slave to another’s capacity to take offence?

    I think we’ll find out when parliament votes on smoking in public places. The medical evidence against second hand smoke is pretty much zilch, but increasingly large numbers of intolerant non-smokers find the royal & ancient & filthy habit offensive. So it must be stamped out, of course.

    I think the vote is due later this month.

  30. Raincoaster :It must be stamped out, because its stinky and inferior..

    Was that Denmark or smoking you are against?

  31. Field

    They keep telling me off for going off topic but since you have started…..

    There are quite reasonable restrictions on free speech, essentially things like not inciting people to violence against others or shouting FIRE in a crowded cinema (unless it’s showing a Michael Moore movie of course). Cartoons don’t come under this.

    Ironically I saw a number of placards on yesterdays ‘spontaenous’ demos calling for massacre and butchering of those that offend Islam. (I also heard a number of presumably mainstream Muslims querying the ‘spontaneity’ on the radio. And as Charles Moore notes in the Telegraph it really is suprising just how many Danish flags you can spontaenously find in Gaza shops for burning.) Well this is real religious hatred – hatred voiced by members of a religion. It is also what you are not allowed to do under the law – i.e. inciting violence. Was anyone arrested? Will Boris ask in the House.

    What I regard as more disturbing though is the mealey-mouthed attitudes of our self styled thinking and artistic classes. On the steam radio, a bloke who has something to do with the Jerry Springer Opera said that he wouldn’t do the same job on Islam because the audience – all us infidels – wouldn’t have the background to appreciate the satire! I suspect he is more interested in keeping his wedding tackle intact. But besides that in our super inclusive society he should not be pandering to the needs of the majority. If we have a satire about our own religious culture – whether or not some of us are now atheists – then fair’s fair and so should the minority, who can obviously appreciate teh subtlety. The BBC or whoever did the Jerry Springer Opera, should be investigated by the CRE for this lapse. We hope to see Mohammed – the Musical in super quick time or the BBC is going to be shown up as institutionally racist. And isn’t about time the Pythons got on with the Life of Tariq! This negelect of satire for our minority communities cannot continue!

    It’s at times like this that our great thinkers sound like they have just removed a pipe from their mouths and started off saying “You know…” in that common sense type of voice. In this case it’s that you shouldn’t use your right to free speech because it would pour petrol on a fire. This actually means you shouldn’t upset the As because they react violently but it’s OK to annoy the Bs because they don’t react as violently. I think at school we used to call this bullying. There’s a grand old British saying of “Pick on someone your own size” so if you really want to be seen as a bold and provocative satirist then have a go at someone that reacts in style! These people have nothing in common with the likes of Orwell or Solzhenitsin or thousands of other people, who risked something more than not getting a laugh, in the old Eastern Europe.

    The da Vinci code suggests that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene, a prostitute (but with a heart of gold). I am not a Christian but I would guess that many Christians find this upsetting. I was going along to see the film – I prefer a good thriller to all this stuff about gay cowpokes – but I feel a show of solidarity with my Christian friends is now in order and I shall stay in with an improving book.

    I honestly appreciate Jack Straw has got a tough job on with Iran but he shouldn’t have apologised.

    In the current struggle against terrorism, or call it what you will, we are told repeatedly that if everytime we breach someone’s human right them we are letting the terrorists win. I have argued elsewhere that this is not an all or nothing and won’t rehearse my arguemnts here.

    This sort of threat is much greater where under pressure we let the rule of law no longer obtain because of the actions of a minority (or even a majority of course) or allow laws to be introduced arbitarily. The emasculation of the Religious Hatred bill is to be welcomed (well done Tone!) but the fact that a vestige is left to clog and confuse the legal sysetm is a matter for concern.

    What worries me is that we are in danger of going down the road of appeasement. Is it now beyond the limit of belief that there could be a law in this country passed banning images of the prophet? If that happens then an element of the Caliphate and sharia law will have been planted in the soil of a (relatively) free country that embodies better than all or most others the best of the Enlightenment. And that is truly scary. I’m against phobias, even the ones I have, but I can’t help feeling the fear is getting a little more rational.

  32. Vicus

    >Perhaps the lovely Melissa can draw his attention to the request I issued earlier to clarify his position on the conflict between care for the environment and the interests of big business

    Well, there’s a challenge!

    Shall hope to come back to you.

    ps and I can assure you that Boris values the comments on his website and certainly does drop in to read them.

  33. Mark

    I think you are right in the main. If this is a threat as great or worse than that of war and invasion then governement has a duty to consider measures that would not obtain if the threat were not there.

    This does not mean the sovietisation of the state and economy. For example petrol rationing could be done by giving everyone a basic ration which those without cars could trade in a free market. Before the ultra-libertarian free marketeers start, we can justify this on the grounds that pollution is a public bad inflicted on the polluters and non-polluters alike. The petrol ration given to the non-polluters is their charge for the pollution they suffer with no direct benefit.

  34. That’s very much like the American pollution points plan. Somehow, it never trickles down to the individual level, although I am sure Haliburton got a lot of free pollution points. My rollerblades and my bike have been worth exactly what they’ve saved me in bus passes, no more, no less.

  35. My thought was that it could start at the individual level. Granny doesn’t have a car but the rich folks next door want to drive more than their ration so they pay her whatever the market will bear. The governement sets the overall total ration to fit in with the emission level agreed. Of course as with any form of socialism there will be fiddles and the rich will get more than the poor.

  36. Boris,

    Thank you for a most interesting article. You hit the nail on the head with the recognition of the religious aspects climate change. However, I must disagree with your assessment of the science. You wrote:

    “Or is he completely wrong? To say that would be an offence not just against science, but against a growing world religion.”

    Actually, there is very little scientific evidence that Prof. Lovelock is correct at all! By scientific evidence I mean real world observations. One has to completely ignore all natural variation of climate to lend any credibility to the theory that human induced climate change will be catastrophic. Ignoring the evidence, which is precisely what the greenhouse industry does, is hardly a scientific practice.

    This is not the forum to address each ‘unscientific’ aspect of the global warming argument point-by-point, but I would like to address an overriding question: Why should anyone believe this post when so many renowned scientists say otherwise?

    For 16 years I have watched the subject of climate change gradually move away from scientific fact. For many years, I was extremely puzzled. How could so many brilliant people simple ignore the evidence that was right before them? How could they latch on to any thing that might support their case and simply pretend that the obvious contradictions did not exist? The answer turns out to be quite simple.

    Suppose I was to state at this time that I was a climate scientist in the employ of a U.S. oil company? Aside from attempting to stifle your immediate physical revulsion, you would instantly discard all of my arguments, no matter you compelling and rational, because I was obviously corrupted by ‘big-oil’! Greed and money had rendered all of my arguments mute. The amount of money I was paid by the oil company is irrelevant. Even if it was just a weekend at a golf resort, the corrupting influence would be complete and never ending. Correct?

    Well, I have never made a penny from my stance on the issue of man-made global warming, but many people have.

    Consider the purpose of government in today’s world. No longer does it confine itself to maintaining order, but now seems intent on solving everybody’s problems. In order for government (and politicians) to be needed, there must be important problems to solve.

    Almost all climate science is funded by government. Government funds it because it is seen as a growing and important problem. Billions have been transferred from the public coffers to the pockets of a growing army of climate researchers and computer modelers. Those that make the most outrages claims usually get the biggest grants and the most prestige. The entire system is set up to promote a doom and gloom industry. Those that point out the numerous scientific flaws in this industry are never refuted, but subjected to unending ad-hominem attacks.

    The influence on the individual scientist may seem minor. A colleague may advise “Downplay the uncertainty and emphasize what is possible a little more, not just what is likely. You’ll have a much better chance at getting that grant!”

    The net effect is that the science of climate change hardly looks like science at all anymore. It is a series of ‘what-ifs’, built on a stack of speculations based on a pile of assumptions, most of which have already been proven in accurate!

    One day, this will all become obvious, and future generations will marvel at our gullibility. Prof. Lovelock is wrong; and saying so is an affirmation of science, not an offence!

  37. Sitting up at back of all this is the question: who do you trust?

    Living in a time when the highest authority in the land, the British Prime Minister, lied his country into war with complete impunity, who is to be believed about anything?

    All we have are various rival special interest groups jockeying for position, and bending the truth to their own advantage.

    A plague on all their houses, I say.

  38. How could so many brilliant people simple ignore the evidence that was right before them? How could they latch on to any thing that might support their case and simply pretend that the obvious contradictions did not exist? (Climate Guy)

    Exactly the same applies in the case of tobacco.

    The entire system is set up to promote a doom and gloom industry. Those that point out the numerous scientific flaws in this industry are never refuted, but subjected to unending ad-hominem attacks.

    Exactly the same applies in the case of tobacco.

    There are a lot of people making very good money scaring the sh*t out of us.

  39. Well, there isn’t actually any scientific proof Lovelock IS wrong. Quite the contrary. Conventional wisdom is more or less a contradiction in terms, at least to those of us with IQs that boast three figures.

    I recommend the works of Mike Davis for those of you who feel insufficiently apocalyptic. Definitely guaranteed to clear the bowels.

  40. “Climate Change as a religion?”

    Never mind that. What about religion as a climate changer?

    The latest embassy burnings by those respectful, peace-loving muslims – do they too have an opt-out under kyoto?

    Has Iran signed kyoto? No matter – I’d imagine nuking Israel doesn’t fall within its terms.

  41. Mumbler

    Just because the embassy burners are wrong doesn’t mean the Cassandras of climate change are. The problem with Cassandra was she said stuff people didn’t like but she was right. Steer by the Enlightenment!

  42. MELISSA or whoever

    Something is wrong with this web page. You’re putting new pictures of Boz up top which are duplicating themselves and pushing the text off the margin, making it very hard to read. Please correct immediately!!

  43. Climate Guy –

    I read your post with interest. I hope you’re right. And I don’t care who you’re employed by, if you can muster some evidence against climate change being a fact. Then we can all relax and go back to arguing about religion.

    I’d very much like to read some of this evidence. Can you suggest where I can find it?

  44. Climate Guy has a point or two. People generally work for oil companies for the daily crust. Even the most noble of us may find it difficult from time to time to resist pressure if the alternative is the loss of the aforesaid DC. Similarly folk in the well meaning NGOs have a vested interest in keeping the money coming in. I’ve seen this in education at various levels where initiatives that are past their sell by date or just frankly loony are kept going by those who rely on them for a job ticket. It is not oil or tobacco or motor cars that might make you less honourable than you might believe you are. It is the old necessity to keep the sprogs in shoes and so on. I’ve pulled the odd stroke of which I am not very proud.

    We have another problem though. Climate science is still in its infancy and yet what we already have seems worse than rocket science because of the huge uncertainties involved. Put on top of that the learning curve required to even understand what is in the literature and I suspect that many of us are going to fall back onto finding a suitable guru. Unfortunately with the best will in the world the optimists will be influenced by their comfort zone (good expression – like it lots) and the pessimists by their discomfort zone. If we consider it from a game theory point of view with the pessimists view being incredibly more bad than the optimists view is good, and allowing each a 50% probability I guess it’s time to put more pullovers on and walk to work.

  45. Never mind the pictures; can somebody wrap those damn links? My monitor isn’t 40 inches wide!

    One has to doubt the scientific sophistication of these studies, as their posted does not even possess rudimentary HTML skills. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  46. Webmaster / Melissa / Mr Blair (you can fix anything)

    Please do something about this page. It’s almost unreadable! (Your problem is that you have two header pictures of Boris side by side which are stretching the margins way beyond the limits of the average computer screen. I’ll show you the errant source code if you like)

  47. It is claimed that this site does not claim to be exhaustive.

    As things stand it is approaching the exhausting stage. Most annoying to read without difficulty . Sorry to be a wet blanket.

  48. I emailed. But then, I’d be surprised if anyone is in the office standing by to make changes. Isn’t it Sunday and all good Tories are in church or at Grandma’s house for dinner?

  49. Raincoaster: That might well be the case in normal circles, but Melissa is not a mere mortal. I’m sure she’ll come up trumps ere long.

  50. Melissa said: Raincoaster and Mac. So glad the issue was fixed – Wibbler came to the rescue in good time!

    Don’t I get a mention, then?

  51. PaulD, I’m the token socialist here, so like a good socialist I’ll share my name-check with you. Consider it split 50/50, although if the others start whining I’ll expect you to share it around.

    Getting back to the original topic, I’m not sure if this is good news or bad news, but over on Vanity Fair I noticed an ad for Olivia Newton-John’s new resort: Gaia.

    It’s fair to say I have reservations.

  52. Paul ID

    >Webmaster / Melissa / Mr Blair (you can fix anything)

    Please do something about this page.

    You were of course the VERY FIRST – could send you a Boris book by way of apology for oversight if you wish…

  53. Gosh, I’m surrounded by all these generous people.

    Raincoaster: Very kind of you but a 50/50 split would dilute Mac’s share of the credit, which isn’t very socialist.

    Melissa: Very kind of you too. Not being a socialist, I accept! How is this deed to be done?

  54. PaulD: I readily relinquish my share, as it were: ars longa , vita brevis. Prior tempore, prior jure.

  55. Of course I was only referring to my share of the name-check; not being imperialistic in the slightest (except when it comes to Alaska) I would not dream of expropriating someone else’s credit.

    I see, however, that Mac has one-upped me and given away ALL his credit, where I was only offering half of mine. I guess that means he’s a communist?

  56. Yikes, Mac – that’s stretching the O-level Latin rather too far.

    Online translator gives it as: artis longa , life short. Prius transitory , prius jure.

    I got the “life short” bit. Art is long? Jury saying a short prayer?

  57. From Legal Definitions:

    He who has the precedency in time has the advantage in right, is the maxim of the law; not that time, considered barely in itself, can make any such difference, but because the whole power over a thing being secured to one person, this bars all others from obtaining a title to it afterwards.

    Among common creditors, he who has the oldest lien has the preference; it being a maxim both of law and equity, qui prior est tempore, potior est jure.

  58. An off the cuff translation , as I meant it would be : In the general run of things ‘life is too short , art lasts beyond that’. And of course , ‘who comes first , gets the best bits’: perhaps better said as ‘ first come , first served’.
    I am a dyed in the wool Tory, but a fair one ,( I hope)

  59. Wasn’t it Marilyn Monroe who said that those who choose to become Tory are more Tory than those born that way? So I suppose that those who are both born and chosen Tories are just that much Torier.

  60. Mark Gamon wrote about PRT (personal rapid transport)

    Sadly, it’s not just lazy politicians (local and national) who might turn out to be resistant. It’s also the great and glorious British public. The tricky part for a lot of us might be the fact that you have to get yourself from your house to the PRT Stop. Yuck. Cold? Rain? Walking? Much easier to just hop into my over-heated stress-inducing obesity-building three-quarters empty pollutemobile instead. Besides, I wouldn’t want to disappoint the car manufacturers’ shareholders, now would I?

    I’m not so sure, Mark. In congested London, which would you prefer?
    a) bus
    b) tube
    c) car
    d) taxi
    e) a private pod that whisked you to your destination at 30+mph non-stop for £1 – while also using a fraction of the energy of traditional methods and in near silence?

    That is what PRT promises, and with determination on all sides it could happen.

    I don’t buy the idea that we should all stay at home wearing an extra pullover and eating potatoes as a “cure” for the looming energy/environment crisis.

    Technology can be used to improve on what we already have but use wastefully. Wind, tide and nuclear energy, ‘fourth wave’ transport systems and greater use of modern communications to reduce travel would together bring a huge cut in our fossil fuel demands and their dirty emissions.

    Urban light transport is a start; who knows where it could develop from there? And by light transport I don’t mean the Docklands Light Railway, which is still heavy engineering by another name. Nor do I mean trams, whose track layout is highly restricted and whose hundreds of passengers have to stop each time one person wants to get off.

    A big company I know has one computer with a dial-up modem between 40 people. If anything needs to be said involving more than a few words, a small army of suits must dive into their Mondeos at 6.30 the next morning and struggle around the M25 for yet another pointless meeeting. This ‘culture’ has to be discouraged.

    Apart from a lack of vision by the gutless politicians of our age, their tail wags the engineering dog. Having followed the PRT story, I find it deeply worrying that any ground-breaking project like this is forced to place yesterday’s local policies and the appeasement of minority and disabled groups above the primary purpose of getting people from A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    Did Brunel start with a brief to make his bridges “comply with an integrated transport policy”, wheelchair-friendly and acceptable to non-English speakers? No he did not. This might sound terribly heartless but it isn’t. The simple fact is, as soon as you put secondary considerations first, the grand plan is strangled by issues that can be dealt with later.

    One of the few good things the Fat Controller has done in his wretched reign as DPM is bring in higher insulation standards for new houses and encourage off-site construction – all good energy-saving stuff. The he spoils it all with more ludicrous regulations, including a ban on wiring your own garden shed.

    Quite enough for one day!

  61. PaulD

    You’ve nearly sold me a pod – now tell me what it is and how it works. I’m intrigued!

    The story about the modem is to the point. I really wonder if the perceived need to be at so many meetings in person is just modern vanity though. I send my apologies in for loads of meetings now and get on with some work in my shed. The organisation doesn’t seem to have suffered. In fact e-mail or discussion boards allows people to develop ideas more carefully, interleaved with other work. No pressure to finish a meeting because it’s nearly lunchtime, or worse still, continue it! Less alpha posturing (male or female).

  62. The current debate on global warming is like a religion. First the Earth is made into an entity with a purpose that can take revenge on humanity, which is plainly ridiculous. The earth is a complex system but it does not have feelings of revenge!Next any view that is against the global warming orthodoxy is considered irrational, irreponsible and funded by the oil companies. The term ‘preventing climate change’ is moronic, as the climate will change with or without human intervention, as billions of years of earth history has shown. The last religious element is that we have to be punished to atone for our sins. This means cutting down on air and car travel, sustainable development and the completely bonkers idea of replacing our reliable energy sources with alternative energy. Finally the global warming religion supports a powerful priesthood in the shape of the UN, EU, IPCC and environmental groups. Do you think it is wise for David Cameron to buy into this nonsense?

  63. Tanveer, you were winning me over when – clang: “the completely bonkers idea of replacing our reliable energy sources with alternative energy”.

    I’m afraid your case falls to bits right there. Reliable sources? They may be at the moment, but check this out http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/

    OK it may be another panic reaction, urban myth, call it what you will, but the reality is that oil-based fuels WILL run low to the point where they are no longer economically viable. We are already feeling the pinch – look at the current price of petrol or, even more staggering, the cost of central heating oil.

    Watch any science fiction film. Do you see them pouring unleaded four-star into their travel craft (or, dare I say, their Personal Rapid Transport systems)? No, the stuff has run out and technology has provided alternatives.

    Jack, here’s that PRT link again if you’re interested http://www.atsltd.co.uk/

  64. the climate will change with or without human intervention, as billions of years of earth history has shown.

    Well, exactly. It’s been some 20,000 or 50,000 years since the end of the last ice age, after which sea levels rose (from memory) some 150 metres, thanks to all the melt water. What caused that? Early human wood burn cooking? Really? What caused the last interglacial, and the one before that?

    I’ve not seen an explanation for these glaciations, or the brief interglacial periods in between. I suspect that nobody really has any idea what triggered them. But there would seem to be a law of science that the less anybody knows about anything, the deeper their convictions, and the louder their assertions. And that with absolute ignorance comes absolute dogmatism.

  65. Beautifully put, idlex.

    Jack – I hope you haven’t attempted electrically wiring your office (shed). JP will have you banged up quick as his own right hook.

  66. I’m not so sure these pods are doable. Wasn’t the Segway supposed to solve these problems too? Turned out nobody wanted to look like a cross between George Jetson and the Impressive Clergyman from Princess Bride, all while being stuck out in the weather anyway. And they rely on electricity, which does, after all, have to come from somewhere. Coal? Hydro power?

    It’s the centralized sources of electricity that will make the biggest change in the coming century, particularly as vehicles switch over to batteries. You’re right, oil is running out rapidly enough that the search for alternatives is one of the most competitive fields of science.

    I think there are many possible solutions to mass transit, but most of them do involve the masses, not individual transports. The real impetus for things like the pod is the shrinking sense of individual autonomy and the growing sense of alienation in the cities. If you could rely on the other people on the tube not to fall asleep and drool on your shoulder, or not to squash you, that “Ugh, not the commute” reaction wouldn’t exist. There are buses in this town I take and buses I don’t, and the clientele is what makes that decision for me. The solution to mass transit lies, I suggest, primarily in instilling some sense of public order, which is social engineering at a very high level indeed.

    I do like the jeepneys they have in Manila; these are converted jeep/vans that go up and down the major streets. You wave to flag one down, hop on, negotiate a fare and away you go. Bang on the roof when it’s time for your stop. Because they hold up to 20 people at a time, and drive all day, their fuel efficiency is huge (the stop-and-start action is the gas-sucker). And because there’s always a driver who owns the jeepney and is responsible for keeping it running, he doesn’t tolerate any nonsense, so order is kept. It was by far the most pleasant transportation I have experienced outside of the Vancouver Skytrain. Actually, given some of the Skytrain-rider’s behaviour, I should probably give that a re-think.

  67. Privacy is certainly one attraction of PRT, but the avantages go way beyond that. All conventional forms of public transport require scores or even hundreds of people to stop whenever one wants to get on or off. This makes it much slower, the only cure being to position the stops further apart which, in turn, increases the distance one has to walk to one’s destination, so making the system even less appealing. It is also highly wasteful of fuel; a low-friction carriage cruising on the level at 30mph uses little energy.

    Now you’ve got me going, there are few sights more irritating than the rural buses in our area. Every time I get stuck behind one, belching out diesel smoke as it grinds along at 18mph with a snake of traffic behind, I can’t help noticing that they are always empty. Correction – I did see a passenger on one a few months ago.

    Why do local councils continue to subsidise these monsters? There must be a better way.

  68. Chaps

    There was a report this morning that Sweden is going for a non-oil economy in 15 years. I’ve checked the date and its not 1/4 (4/1 for our US colleagues) so is this possible?

    Mark
    As far as energy production is concerned isn’t the point that we want such processes to not produce CO2 or at least to trap the CO2 produced. (I used to think that global warming was thought to be due to the wasted heat from all our artificial energy production and use but I don’t think that counts does it?).

  69. PaulD:

    Buses are essential to anyone living in a rural area who has no car (like most of the rapidly increasing population of rural poor).

    I understand your point that an ENORMOUS bus is wasted on many rural routes (and wont really fit down most country roads), which is why many companies run a slighter larger form of minibus on these routes.

    Not knowing where in the UK you are, I can’t speak for your local companies. Here in South Oxon your words are false (and, should you live round here, i urge you to be more observant – I have yet to see a completely empty bus!).

    Not all of us are rich enough to be able to afford private transport.

  70. Of course, Psimon. There has to be some kind of service for the “rural poor”. All I’m saying is that full-size buses are wholly inappropriate when demand is low, as it is on this route in north Essex.

    Glad to hear things are better on South Oxon. Perhaps these minibuses are used more because they are more flexible, QED.

    Just imagine, though, if you had a PRT system running through your village with a private pod virtually on demand. And imagine how many Jag-driving commuters would abandon their cars for a cheaper and faster alternative. Almost all, I guess.

    Mark: Computer models designed by Bristol University (a partner in the “Ultra” PRT scheme) show that, with a well planned city system, waiting time would be zero for the great majority of travellers.

  71. Well put, Boris.

    There certainly is more than a passing resemblance between the current brand of global-warming enviromentalism and religion. Which is surprising – as saving the planet surely offers no direct benefit to oneself, save a smug feeling of self-righteousness, but only to the future population of the world. It’s deferred happiness gone a step too far!

    Really I think there are far more pressing immediate issues – after all, in the long run, as Keynes said in a different context, “we’re all dead”.

  72. Extend your word power with Boris Johnson

    Wordlist 1

    Followers of Boris Johnson MP, of which I am one only in the sense that I read his blog, are either extremely literate or in possession of a hefty dictionary. His rants are a carnival of words and as the vivid and beautiful march by, so do …

  73. Did I , or did I not , read this very week , that the feared global warming we are discussing , is , even as we speak, in fact at its very zenith, and by 2012, it shall be reversed?

    This “factual report”, based on supposedly scientifically proven periodical solar radiation arrhythmia, extracted from some Continental climatologists studies, stated that a mini ice age would in fact have begun by that date .

    I don’t normally suffer from delusions : I read my Daily Rubbish, along with millions of others, and I find that I am torn between two disparate branches of an incomplete and argumentative science. To fry or to freeze , that is the question.

    HELP!

  74. Geek-pie said:
    >Is this the same Boris Johnson who in 1998 was allegedly overhead talking to fellow public-schoolboy Darius Guppy about beating up a journalist?

    Welcome, geek-pie. Your style of penetrating, analytical debate is just what’s needed on this site.

    Tell us: Did they actually beat him up?

  75. I noticed in yesterday’s Independent the obituary of Professor Sir Nicholas Shackleton, professor of Quaternary Palaeoclimatology at Cambridge, who identified ice-age cycles. Some extracts:

      …In 1947, [nobel laureate] Harold Urey had published calculations which predicted that the heavy isotope of oxygen (18-O) would be fractionated from its light isotope (16-O) as a function of temperature. He suggested that this would provide a method to estimate temperatures in the geological past…

      Among his team was Cesar Emiliani, who, because of his background in micropalaeontology, went on to apply the techniques developed to tiny micro-fossils… Emiliani is often thought of as the founder of palaeoceanography…

      Shackleton made oxygen isotope measurements on shells of fossil foraminifera…and saw a fatal flaw in Emiliani’s work…

      Another very important application was to place within a known timescale the fluctuating oxygen isotope signals that Emiliani and Shackleton had defined, by generating a long core record that extended to a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field seen in sediment cores and known to be 780,000 years ago.

      This set the stage for the most important application of the oxygen isotope method: the reconstruction of the history of global ice volume through the ice ages. Milutin Milankovitch in the 1920s had hypothesised that ice ages were caused by changes in distribution of solar radiation at the Earth’s surface in turn driven by changes in movement in the Earth’s orbit…

      The result was the famous 1976 paper in Science (“Variations in the Earth’s orbit: pacemaker of the ice ages”) where they showed that the three periodicities with which the Earth’s orbit changes (100,000, 40,000, and 21,000 years) were all present just as predicted.

      This clear recognition of orbital control is now revolutionising the whole of stratigraphy…

    All very interesting, but I noted that Shackleton had discovered some mistake in his predecessors work, and that this is a new science, barely 30 years old, and still having revolutionary effects. How much faith ought we to have in these new sciences, particularly when their founders have already been shown to have made mistakes? Not very much, I suggest.

    True, it is Science, but it’s a developing science, and very likely one that is strapped for research cash. I mean, who is really all that interested in ice ages? Nobody much – until you predict that the next ice age is imminent any day. I bet that guarantees research grants. The same is true of Lovelock. Another new science, and another new (but opposite) imminent doom-laden scenario.

    Do we freeze or do we fry? I don’t know. Instead I suspect that we’re caught in a protection racket turf war between freeze science and fry science.

  76. And it looks like, at the moment, fry science has the upper hand. Today’s Independent (by which I mean yesterday’s) has Global warming: the ‘tipping point’ on its front page, and a page full of graphs on page 2, towards the end of which the following caveat appears:

      Some scientists have been reluctant to talk about the overall global warming effect of all the greenhouse gases taken together, because there is another consideration – the fact that the ‘aerosol’, or band of dust in the atmosphere from industrial pollution, actually reduces the warming.

      As Professor Shine stresses, there is enormous uncertainty about the degree to which this is happening, so making calculations of the overall warming effect problematic.

    Lovely name that, for one of the fry scientists: Professor Shine.

    And it could well be that Melissa, jetting off to some Alpine ski resort, may have helped to put just enough extra aerosol into the atmosphere to defer our imminent frite.

    I knew we could count on Melissa.

  77. Perhaps she’s gone to study the ultraviolet differential at altitude? We shall have to ask her about her sunburn when she comes back.

    OT: Carl Sagan actually theorized that the best way to deal with global warming was to instigate an artificial (and peaceful) nuclear winter. Don’t tell me that man wasn’t a drinker!

  78. Now there’s a turn up for the book, An acolyte of Nicotiana tabacum calling the ‘pot’ black.

    Many moons ago, so many that I don’t care to count, there was an American semi-comical band known as Red Ingle and the Natural 7, which made a certain song immensely famous.

    Hillbilly was their style,a little like some of Spike Jones stuff: however if they were new today, they would probably be grouped under the title ‘Way out Left’ . The song was “Cigareets and Whusky and Wild Wild Women”, and one has to be a certain age to remember it, unless one is an anorak: which makes me…… ?

    BTW could it possibly be that my sighting, on the 9th Inst.in my Daily Rubbish, about the possibility of a reversal in Global warming predated the one in the Inde. of the 11th Inst.? If so : naughty lax Inde.reporter! Shine on Harvest moon. If anyone should have the slightest interest, I could post the words to the Ciggie aria! LMK

  79. Now there’s a turn up for the book, An acolyte of Nicotiana tabacum calling the ‘pot’ black.

    Did I say I had anything against pot?

    I was simply pointing out that Carl Sagan was a well-known devotee of that particular herb, and not well-known as a devotee of the bottle.

  80. And I haven’t seen an Indie article on a coming ice age -just an obituary of one of the ice age scientists (Shackleton).

    No, the Indie is big on global warming. And indeed big on anything that will give its readers a heart attack on first sight. The day after the Shackleton obituary, they ran another front page global warming doom shock story. Not a peep about Shackleton and co in it, of course.

    I’m not sure why I buy the rag. But I’ve been through every single broadsheet over the years (Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Independent) and have ended up thinking exactly he same about them all.

  81. >> However you look at things, fundamentally we are only >> temporary tenants of Earth. We as a race need to move >> out of our safe Petri dish environment and explore the >> suburbs of the galaxy to find a new place to live.

    We are all gypsies now…

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