Friday, 27 June 2014

Climate and the demise of the middle class

To my mind, the climate change controversy has more to tell us about human anxieties than science. For instance, Sackers recently sent me these two links.

Global warming conspiracy theorist zombies devour Telegraph and Fox News brains

Attention climate deniers: This scientist will give you $10,000 for actual proof that global warming is a hoax

The first writer seems to think it's okay for climate scientists to alter past temperature data and anyone who disagrees is the zombie spawn of Fox News. Something like that. The second seems keen to bash any idea that climate orthodoxy has a few skeletons in the closet.

Whatever one thinks of these two items, neither addresses the core CAGW issue which has become too simple for prevarication. The climate itself settled the matter a few years ago when it failed to warm as predicted. Nobody has the faintest idea where global temperatures are going nor why. Not even next month's temperatures. At this stage it's all guesswork and chutzpah.

So the passion in these pieces cannot arise from genuine concern about catastrophic global warming because it isn’t warming - let alone catastrophically.  So what is it all about? Why do people still express themselves in such extreme ways? I do too by the way – from my side of the fence. More often than I’d like anyhow. 

To my mind the CAGW debate is wholly political which is where the passion comes from. It’s about the global demise of the middle classes, their increasing irrelevance as a powerful social class and their demotion to worker-consumers just like everyone else but the elite.

It’s about the prospect of having to compete globally for such basics as energy, raw materials and food. About the possibility that these necessities could become scarce if developing countries consume them with the same profligacy as we still do. Or if they are better able to afford them - and isn't that something to think about?

Certainly when I read blogs, newspaper items and comments on climate change, CAGW proponents tend to use language which does not tie in with what the climate is actually doing. Or rather what it isn't doing. I rarely detect genuine concern about global temperatures.

It’s almost always about bashing sceptics or it's about consumption. CO2 emissions are used as a symbol for consumption - they always have been. The Guardian has wittered away about consumption since I first started reading it fifty years ago – probably longer. It’s not a new refrain. If I remember rightly, PVC should have run out by now, but that’s another story.

Sceptics can be similarly extreme, but I think that may be for different reasons. Or it may not – hard to tell amid the unlovely fog of passion.

To my mind the flaky CAGW science deflects our attention from the real problem which appears to be this deep-rooted anxiety about the future – which I’ll admit to sharing. I don’t want my central heating switched off in winter and I don’t want a world of two monolithic social classes - Them and Us.

The future seems threatening as ordinary middle class people lose whatever political power they once had – even the power to be a social class. So perhaps we would be better off framing the debate in terms of anxiety about the future, accepting that such anxieties cannot always be rigidly rational and scientifically valid.

Perhaps we should also accept that widespread and essentially political anxieties ought to be brought out into the open rather than hidden behind environmental rhetoric and unattractive aggression or simulated and equally unattractive condescension.

As a CAGW sceptic, that’s a debate I would find easy enough to join and maybe find common ground with those who are anxious about political power, natural resources and willing to frame arguments in these terms rather than pretending to understand the climate, or pretending to know that others understand it.

If we humanise the debate in this way, if we take account of the emotional aspects and admit that it is perfectly reasonable to be anxious about our political future, such as the possibility that we might not have a political future, then maybe we’d get somewhere.


Sam Vega said...

Excellent point. I have often suspected that concerns about the environment are driven by the old middle-class anxieties about frugality and a proper moderate stewardship of resources. It is only those showy heedless spendthrifts who endanger the rest of us decent people with their lack of concern. Do you remember when Mrs. Thatcher was keen on defeating global warming?

A K Haart said...

Sam - yes I do remember. It's very old this middle class anxiety about resources and too many people using them up. I certainly don't recall a time when we were free of it.