07 Sep 2011

Global Warming as Religion

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Princeton Professor Russell H. Nieli offers a serious critique of the establishment of AGW as orthodoxy on American university campuses and in the MSM. His list of issues is quite good, and so is his conclusion.

MIT’s Richard Lindzen, a long-time skeptic of the Gore-Hansen Model of global warming, has explained how the serious challenge to American scientific and military dominance posed by the Soviet launching of the Sputnik satellite in the 1950s sent a clear message to the American scientific community that has stuck with it ever since. After Sputnik, says Lindzen, it became clear that the way to gain status, prestige, and, above all, government funding for one’s scientific research, was through the medium of public fear and crisis creation. A similar dynamic was at work earlier, he says, in the creation of the Manhattan Project, which was originally established as a counterweight to what was believed to be an advanced Nazi atom bomb project. The threats and crises for which the government will shell out big money may be entirely real, of course, and not in need of any exaggeration or hype. But they may also be bogus or grossly inflated, a condition that Lindzen thinks accurately describes current global-warming concerns of the Gore-Hansen variety.

The New York Times science editor John Tierney offers a similar take on the global warming issue, stressing both the self-interest of scientists involved in crisis mongering and the more general, herd-like conformism that afflicts scientists along with everyone else. “I’ve long thought that the biggest danger in climate research,” Tierney writes, “is the temptation for scientists to lose their skepticism and go along with the ‘consensus’ about global warming. That’s partly because it’s easy for everyone to get caught up in ‘informational cascades,’ and partly because there are so many psychic and financial rewards for working on a problem that seems to be a crisis. We all like to think that our work is vitally useful in solving a major social problem — and the more major the problem seems, the more money society is liable to spend on it. … Given the huge stakes in this debate — the trillions of dollars that might be spent to reduce greenhouse emissions — it’s important to keep taking skeptical looks at the data. How open do you think climate scientists are to skeptical views, and to letting outsiders double-check their data and calculations?” (John Tierney).

The last sentence was an oblique reference to attempts by many climate scientists to suppress skeptical voices, which was so clearly in evidence in the scandalous Climategate emails. A commentator on Tierney’s blog adds the following valuable insight: “To survive, most workers in scientific fields must follow the grant money. If all the grants this year are for work on the crisis du jour, then that’s the work which gets done. The annoying fact is that somebody pays for science. The ‘somebody’ may be an Evil Oil Company, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, or anyone else with bags of money. We shouldn’t be too amazed when we find that the ‘somebody’ tends to get the science he or it wants to see.”

That money, power, vanity, and prestige may influence a scientific debate — or non-debate in the case of global warming — should not be very surprising. As I have said, scientists and scholars are human beings and prone to all the foibles and distortions of the human condition. This was the great insight of the mid-20th century “sociologists of knowledge,” and before them of most Calvinists and other discerning Christians (including most notably James Madison in Federalist No. 10).

But I think there is an additional element here that is less talked about but probably as important as the kinds of issues Lindzen and Tierney bring up. This is the attraction of global-warming orthodoxy not as a falsifiable scientific theory or source of research funding but as a substitute religion that engages all the energies and capacities to enhance meaning in life that an earlier generation of secular scholars and scientists often found in various brands of socialism or psychoanalysis. With the general decline and discrediting of both Marxism and Freudianism over the past thirty years radical environmentalism in various forms has taken their place in the lives of many secular intellectuals as a source of existential meaning and purpose. The insular, defensive, cult-like behavior displayed by so many global warming advocates when they are confronted with the concerns of informed skeptics reinforces such an interpretation and explains their refusal to debate dissenters. True believers have no converse with heretics. And such cult-like behavior reinforces one final suspicion: like socialism and Freudianism, global-warming alarmism may prove in time to be a God that failed.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

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