G.K. Chesterton said that "when people stop believing in orthodox religion, rather than believe in nothing, they will believe in anything". One of the ersatz religions which fills the void in recent years is belief in Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming. It claims to be based on science. But it has all the characteristics of an eschatological cult.
It has its own priesthood and ecclesiastical establishment - the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; they alone can interpret its sacred scriptures - the Assessment Reports; it anathematises as 'deniers' anyone who casts doubt on its certainties; above all it predicts imminent doom if we do not follow its precepts and make the sacrifices it prescribes.
What most clearly distinguishes the Catastrophic Global Warming cult from science is that it is not refutable by facts. As Parliament enacted the Climate Change Bill, on the presumption that the world was getting warmer, it snowed in London in October - the first time in 74 years. Supporters explained "extreme cold is a symptom of global warming"!
The Met Office - whose climate model is the cult's crystal ball to forecast centuries ahead - has made a series of spectacularly unreliable short term forecasts: "Our children will not experience snow" (that was 2000, before the recent run of cold winters), a barbecue summer (before the dismal 2011 summer), the drought will continue (last spring before the wettest summer on record). Now they say that rain and floods are the new normal. But - hot or cold, wet or dry - global warming is always to blame.
Alarmists are reluctant to admit that the global surface temperature has not increased for 16 years, despite CO2 emissions rising far more than predicted. They wave this inconvenient truth away with the non-sequitur that this decade is the hottest since records began, so the world is still warming. If you climb a hill and reach a flat plateau you are higher than before - but the plateau is flat, not rising. When cornered, global warming alarmists assert that the current pause is simply the result of unspecified 'natural variations'. That implies that the pronounced warming over the previous 25 years may have been amplified by 'natural variations' in the other direction. In which case, the likely temperature rise for a given increase in CO2 may be less than previously estimated or required to produce the threatened doom.
In 2006 I asked how long the pause in warming would have to persist before the Met Office would revise its model. They replied that, since it is based on known laws of physics, they would never adjust it. Just like the German philosopher Hegel, who claimed to derive the laws of nature from first principles: when told that the facts did not agree with his theories, Hegel replied: "So much the worse for the facts"! Climate models do incorporate some established physical laws including the basic greenhouse effect which, having studied physics at Cambridge, I accept. This implies that doubling the concentration of CO2 will raise the temperature by a fairly harmless 1.2ºC. But the models amplify this several fold using assumptions about complex phenomena which cannot yet be reduced to simple physical laws.
This cult enables adherents to feel morally superior at little personal cost. Buy a Prius or vote Green and save the planet. Unfortunately, costly renewables are driving many into fuel poverty and manufacturing jobs overseas. Action by Britain is pointless unless China, India and Africa join in. They are most vulnerable to climate change. But they are vulnerable because they are poor. They will remain poor until they harness energy like us. Requiring them to forego fossil fuels in favour of renewables costing several times more condemns them to remain poor. The cult requires sacrificing the poor to Gaia. As Professor Bruckner concludes: "save the earth, punish mankind" .
Peter Lilley was a speaker at this year's HowTheLightGetsIn festival