Tuesday 8 December 2009

Hellfire and hypocrisy: it was ever thus

For the religious zealot, nothing really matters apart from their faith. And why should it, if this life is just a fleeting trial before an eternity of bliss?

The problem is that no-one has ever come back from the other side to give a decisive thumbs-up to that theory, so the rest of us tend to have quite a low boredom threshold when the preaching starts.

So it is with the new, officially recognised religion of man-made climate change. It may hold out no promise of heaven, but it certainly threatens us with hell on earth if we do not quickly repent of our environmental sins.

The snag is the same as with longer established belief systems. Where is the evidence? Anyone with the slightest knowledge of history knows that there have been disastrous storms and floods since the beginning of recorded time, and that parts of the planet (including England) have been both warmer and colder than they are today.

The earnestness of the tree-huggers and eating-ruminants-haters is also enough to turn anyone against their case, however sound it might be. The weekend’s anti-climate chaos demonstrators (ironically all warmly wrapped up against the cold) inevitably called back memories of those face-painted harridans who used to ululate outside the Greenham Common air base, and the unwashed fanatics who tried to prevent the construction of assorted by-passes. Even though naturally sympathetic to the latter cause, I soon found myself siding with the bulldozer operators.

Then there is the sheer, monumental hypocrisy and inconsistency of the world’s politicians. Just as the more sophisticated mediaeval peasants must occasionally have wondered why the leaders of a religion that preached the virtues of poverty needed to live in palaces brimming with fine art and jewels, so the mind boggles that arresting climate change requires thousands of delegates from 192 countries to board jet aircraft to Copenhagen and be chauffeured around it in gas-guzzling limousines.

And no sooner has the Prime Minister administered a tongue-lashing to the “behind-the-times, anti-science, flat-earth climate sceptics” than up pops a committee of MPs to confirm that building a third runway at Heathrow is a cracking idea. Yes, aircraft emissions may be destroying the planet, but we have got to put the UK economy first.

As I understand it, the world is currently getting cooler rather than warmer, and is likely to continue to jog along in a reasonably bearable condition until about 2030 when, unless we completely transform our casual attitude to carbon dioxide emissions, all hell will suddenly break loose.

Compared with some of the things we are currently asked to swallow, this does not sound entirely barking. Residents of Morpeth or Cockermouth will need no reminding of how quickly benign rivers can turn into destructive torrents, and researchers assure us that the last Ice Age ended so suddenly, in a single year, that it was like a cosmic button being pressed.

Then those of us who fought against modifying our lifestyles may look pretty silly, just as we secretly dread graduates of the Alpha course mouthing “I told you so” as the archangels’ trumpets sound and the Lord returns to judge us.

I have long believed that the only sane approach to any religion is to apply the common sense test: does it do more good than harm? If it preaches consideration to others and living frugally and responsibly, it passes. If it advocates flying planes into buildings, it fails.

I am quite prepared to believe that the near seven billion people on this planet cannot all live in the style of rich Americans without putting unbearable strain on its finite resources. So, if the religion of man-made climate change helps to promote some self-restraint it may not be a wholly bad thing, whether the hellfire it preaches turns out to be real or not.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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