Friends of reality

By Gene Miller, October 2014

Why do some find God a certainty but man-made climate change implausible?

Of course I was dying to read “Kim Kardashian—Way Tighter Butt Than Mother Teresa” in Huffington Post online, but got distracted by this timely bit of current affairs, even though it reads like something hot off the press in, say, 622 AD: “Sunni militants earlier captured Iraq’s biggest Christian town, Qaraqosh, prompting many residents to flee, fearing they would be subjected to the same demands the Sunni militants made in other captured areas—leave, convert to Islam, or face death. The Islamic State, considered more extreme than al-Qaeda, sees Iraq’s majority Shi’ites and minorities such as Christians and Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious community, as infidels.”

Which answers two burning questions: Where’s a good infidel when you need one, and “...then Ali Baba escapes from the Sultan’s palace on a magic carpet, right, Dad?” 

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

And in related news comes word of Ross McKitrick, tight with the Fraser Institute and the Almighty. McKitrick, a University of Guelph academic specializing in (God help us) Environmental Economics, and a denier of human-caused climate change, embraces and is a signatory to the Virginia-based Cornwall Alliance’s declaration: 

“We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence—are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.”

If, as you digest this, you think you hear a minister’s varnished baritone delivering a “Dearly Beloved” sermon against a background whisper of church organ, your imagination is not deceiving you. The Cornwall Alliance is a predictable motley of red meat right-wingers, free-enterprise mouth-breathers, academic remoras, and evangelical and other religionists with their own murky social agenda. Wikipedia notes that the Cornwall Alliance would prefer that in the public conversation “polluters” be replaced with “stewards”—a surreal and prize-winning piece of spin.

McKitrick has stated: “I have been probing the arguments for global warming for well over a decade. In collaboration with a lot of excellent coauthors I have consistently found that when the layers get peeled back, what lies at the core is either flawed, misleading or simply non-existent.” 

As one who has spent long years probing the most elegant and essential arguments for the existence of God, without ever finding more than the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, I wonder, as an inquiry into methodology, how McKitrick and his excellent coauthors find God a certainty but man-made climate change implausible. 

It is a puzzle why people who identify as evangelicals and social conservatives are swapping promise rings with free-market capitalists and braying anti-regulation right-wingers, and why they wind up defending the rape-and-pillage side of every environmental argument. What part of the not-exactly-nuanced disconnect between “conserve” and “exhaust” don’t they get? Why does their version of the Almighty appear to condone and even encourage planetary harm and a lack of limits? What synaptic impairment enables them to conflate “polluter” and “steward”? Short of a more cynical explanation, it’s my guess that belief in a provident God’s endless bounty is their get-out-of-jail-free card. Small wonder there’s movement under the sheets between evangelicals, unfettered market types and far-right political activists at hangouts like the Fraser Institute, Cornwall Alliance, and Heartland Institute.

Prohibited (I’m counting small blessings here) by some tissue-thin membrane of sensibility from screaming “God is Great!” and ululating while cutting off non-believers’ heads with a scimitar, evangelicals choose surrogate “signature” battlefields like government regulation or climate change; and here in Canada, sadly, they also work to get one of their own elected prime minister. Wrote Andrew Nikiforuk in The Tyee in 2012:

“Almost daily, more evidence surfaces that Canada’s government is guided by tribalists averse to scientific reason in favour of Biblical fundamentalism—or what some call ‘evangelical religious skepticism.’ Unknown to most Canadians, the prime minister belongs to the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Protestant church with two million members. Alberta, a petro state, is one of its great strongholds on the continent. The church believes that the free market is divinely inspired and that non-believers are ‘lost.’”

Look closely and you will see in Stephen Harper’s face the hard-set mouth and cold eyes of a religious punisher; something de-vitalized, robotic—likely the imperfect control of a disfiguring volcanic anger—in the core of the man. The Globe and Mail notes:

“In 2002, Mr Harper referred to the Kyoto climate change accord as ‘a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations’ and the science behind it as ‘tentative and contradictory.’ In 2006, he again expressed doubts, saying, ‘We have difficulties in predicting the weather in one week or even tomorrow. Imagine in a few decades.’ While Mr. Harper has for the last few years professed to believe in climate change, [his critics say] his lack of any real action on the issue speaks louder than words.”

You may be sure that in spite of all the “God’s faithful providence” sweet talk, evangelicals are on infidel-alert, and their scimitar fingers are twitching. 

We need to “peel the layers back” not on climate science, as McKitrick encourages, but on the Cornwall Alliance’s manifesto, and to expose it as publicly sanctioned psychosis. While I embrace a tolerant approach toward the unhinged, I believe it’s crucial to keep their hands away from social and environmental policy levers, so no great harm is done to the present or the future. If you hear “God’s intelligent design” from denialists, consider it a sign of your own firm grip on reality if your crazy meter needle spikes.

The reason that almost 60 percent of evangelicals are climate deniers has little to do with the actualities of warming and climate change, and everything to do with what it considers the arrogance of a science that presumes humans could do anything to impact the power or the intentions of the Maker of the World. What might, or should, be scientific and evidentiary meets the wall of faith and belief. What might in some less consequential context be considered harmless religious idiosyncrasy—like Mormon sacred underwear, Catholic exorcism, or Jews transferring their sins to chickens—becomes a major ideological attempt to shape national policy.

The past returns: in 1615, the Roman inquisition concluded that Copernicus’ theory that the Earth revolved around the sun was “false and contrary to scripture.” Galileo, who supported Copernicus, was placed under house arrest by the Church, operating, then as now, on the maxim: Never let facts get in the way of ideology. 

To put this plainly, emphatically, and with critical lessons for our own times: Copernicus’ and Galileo’s scientific ideas were not “false and contrary to scripture.” They were true and contrary to scripture. To beat this point to death, the scientific ideas were correct and represented reality. They conflicted with scriptural hallucinations that had nothing to do with reality.

Invoking McKitrick in everything but name, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently wrote about the stark partisan divide over issues that should be simply factual, like whether the planet is warming or evolution happened. Krugman observes:

“The problem isn’t ignorance; it’s [ideologically-driven] wishful thinking. Confronted with a conflict between evidence and what they want to believe for political and/or religious reasons, many people reject the evidence. And knowing more about the issues widens the divide, because the well informed have a clearer view of which evidence they need to reject to sustain their belief system.”

Concluding the zoo tour, I want to introduce you to US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a prominent climate change skeptic who has averred that “dinosaur flatulence” might have caused pre-historic swings in global temperatures. Rohrabacher was delivering a speech entitled “Global Warming as a Power Grab” at the conservative Heartland Institute’s recent conference asking “whether man-made global warming is a problem worth addressing.” I’m guessing you didn’t realize that climate change worry is part of the hidden progressive blueprint for world domination, which, if successful, is likely to result in the pandemic spread of bike lanes, rasta hair and backyard organic farming.

Remember, the reactionary right, religious and otherwise, has a long history of finding dinosaur flatulence where none was thought to exist. I recall the fluoridation wars of the ’50s when far-right John Birch Society founder Robert Welch (of candy fame) claimed that President Dwight Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.” The John Birchers launched a nationwide campaign opposing fluoridation on the grounds that it threw open the doors to Soviet mind control experiments on Americans.

The Roman inquisition way back when; Birchers within living memory; the Cornwall Alliance now: all locked across the centuries in a full-blown culture and values war with faithless progressives and scientific non-believers—a condition known in the Holy Lands, in a twist of excruciating irony, as jihad.

622AD: It’s just around the corner.

Gene Miller, founder of Open Space Cultural Centre, Monday Magazine and the Gaining Ground Conferences, is currently writing Massive Collaboration: Stories That Divide Us, Stories That Bind Us and The Hundred-Mile Economy: Preparing For Local Life.