It is easy to recall how millenial cults have been predicting the imminent demise of humanity. As you are reading this, it is clear that they haven't yet come to pass. A classic example, still fresh in the memory, were the many cultists who arose in the years prior to 2012 - proclaiming that the end of the Earth would coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar's 'long count'.
Around the world, people sat, cross-legged around ancient monuments, listening to prophecies as dawn broke on that day. And then, they packed up and slunk away - not necessarily even wiser for the experience; many leaders spoke of a 'spiritual' catastrophe that had actually taken place, even if its physical effects hadn't been felt by the earthly. Thus they sidestepped the trap they had set for themselves.
Those with an interest in the history of belief systems - and religion in particular - will be familiar with the many prophets who have sought to proclaim doom in such ways. Perhaps most prominently, the Jehovah's Witnesses predicted the arrival of the End Times in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975. Proven wrong, they simply altered their precepts and (post fact) claimed that their prophecies were simply metaphorical that had been misinterpreted by the sceptical.
Some, of course, don't hang around to see whether or not they were right. The Heaven's Gate cult - assured that the end of the world was heralded by the arrival of comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 that they committed suicide en-masse.
And so climate change. According to believers, 'the climate' has been at 'tipping point' for many years now. As each new deadline for action comes and goes, so the goalposts are moved yet a little further out - as if there is always one more 'last chance'. Generally, this last chance comes in tandem with a UN summit or similar, and is heralded by the secular prophets who hold sway in the media under the ambit of 'science' rather than faith.
Only, science too has a long and ignoble history of prognosticating doom. Malthus foresaw the destruction of mankind based on careful study of food production and population growth, but failed to see advances in agricultural practice that, in fact, means that the world today sustains far more people for far longer and in far greater health than in his own day.
While Malthus was proven catastrophically wrong by history, his thinking has continued to inform those who came after him, including a large part of those in the young science that calls itself 'climatology.'
Climatology's precepts are not written as a formal creed, but can be detected throughout their writings, proclamations and the quasi-religious texts to which they adhere. They are roughly as follows:
- Climate in geological recency has been kind to humanity - allowing it flourish in a near-optimal set of conditions.
- This set of conditions was kept mostly in balance by a series of determining factors
- The oceans
- The atmosphere
- Plant life
- Due to advances in technology and population growth, and the attendant needs of both, humanity has begun to over-exploit the natural resources available to it.
- Humanity's need for growth and the scarcity of natural resources has led to industrialisation
- Industrialisation has, in many ways, created problems for the natural balance of the Earth in terms of pollution, deforestation and a toll on plant and animal life.
- Above all, industrialisation has threatened the balance of the climate through its by-products - most notably carbon dioxide.
- If humanity does not curb its industrial processes, increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2 will create runaway effects that will prove catastrophic to humanity, the natural world and possibly even life on earth itself.
Typical of such statements is that made by the Life Cairns Project, who went so far as to publish a statement remarkable for its overt religiosity - complete with portentous wording and a structural formality that wouldn't seem out of place within a liturgy:
This we know
- We are the earth, through the plants and animals that nourish us.
- We are the rains and the oceans that flow through our veins.
- We are the breath of the forests of the land, and the plants of the sea.
- We are human animals, related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell.
- We share with these kin a common history, written in our genes.
- We share a common present, filled with uncertainty.
- And we share a common future, as yet untold.
- We humans are but one of thirty million species weaving the thin layer of life enveloping the world.
- The stability of communities of living things depends upon this diversity.
- Linked in that web, we are interconnected — using, cleansing, sharing and replenishing the fundamental elements of life.
- Our home, planet Earth, is finite; all life shares its resources and the energy from the sun, and therefore has limits to growth.
- For the first time, we have touched those limits.
- When we compromise the air, the water, the soil and the variety of life, we steal from the endless future to serve the fleeting present.This we believe
- Humans have become so numerous and our tools so powerful that we have driven fellow creatures to extinction, dammed the great rivers, torn down ancient forests, poisoned the earth, rain and wind, and ripped holes in the sky.
- Our science has brought pain as well as joy; our comfort is paid for by the suffering of millions.
- We are learning from our mistakes, we are mourning our vanished kin, and we now build a new politics of hope.
- We respect and uphold the absolute need for clean air, water and soil.
- We see that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the inheritance of many are wrong.
- And since environmental degradation erodes biological capital forever, full ecological and social cost must enter all equations of development.
- We are one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.
- So where knowledge is limited, we will remember all those who will walk after us, and err on the side of caution.This we resolve
- All this that we know and believe must now become the foundation of the way we live.
- At this turning point in our relationship with Earth, we work for an evolution: from dominance to partnership; from fragmentation to connection; from insecurity, to interdependence.
Like all quasi religious movements, climatology has its prophets, tenets, apostates and religious texts. It even has a quasi 'devil' in the form of the United States - who looms large in climate mythology as the sole agent acting against the interests of humanity. This remarkable piece written in the Guardian in 2006 is very explicit and telling in its language:
In the small hours of yesterday morning, John Prescott almost saved the planet. He thought he had a deal with the United States on 'supplementarity'. It turned out he hadn't. The deal foundered even before United Nations officials at the conference on global warming could tell the world what supplementarity meant.
Interestingly, many adherents and proponents cling to a sheen of scientific backing - many even claiming to be scientists themselves.
In September 2014, they once more arose to shake the world with their latest proclamation - claiming that only their path could save the world. According to the Guardian:
The world can still act in time to stave off the worst effects of climate change, and enjoy the fruits of continued economic growth as long as the global economy can be transformed within the next 15 years, a group of the world's leading economists and political leaders will argue on Tuesday.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this sounds familiar and leaden to the ear. For over two decades now, the climatological community has been in a state of near-constant emergency. Tipping points have come and gone several times, and yet promises are still made that saving the planet is only a matter of mere amelioration, held back by a gothic array of special interests, public stupidity and lack of political will.