The Global Warming Prophesy
At the heart of the climate change movement is the belief that we will be punished for our sins.
I’ve been re-reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It is perhaps my favourite novel, and first appeared in 1870. Within its pages one finds many pearls of wisdom, including this sentence:
Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.
The human tendency to delude ourselves is a huge theme in this novel. Forget predicting the future, we’re apt to totally misunderstand the present. Our knowledge of even the people we are closest to, as well as current political trends and historical pressures, is always inaccurate and incomplete.
The novel reminds us that, when railroads were first being built, opposition was widespread. We read:
Women both old and young regarded travelling by steam as presumptuous and dangerous, and argued against it by saying that nothing should induce them to get into a railway carriage…
In the novel, the British public worries that trains will cause farm animals to suffer miscarriages, and that the countryside will be severed into pieces and “ruined” by railway tracks. In one memorable scene, railway surveyors are physically attacked by a group of farm labourers.
Somebody told you the railroad was a bad thing. That was a lie. It may do a bit of harm here and there, to this and to that; and so does the sun in heaven. But the railway’s a good thing.
To curl up on a chilly winter’s day with Middlemarch is to be brought back down to Earth. The characters we meet at the beginning of this novel are decidedly different people by the end of it. Some of them have fallen tragically short of their aspirations. Others have wrestled successfully with their baser instincts and have grown into stable, contributing human beings.
On this amazing planet with its billions of human and non-human variables, the future cannot be predicted. Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.
At the heart of the climate change movement we find an ancient dread: the notion that humanity will be punished for our collective transgressions. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden in the first book of the Old Testament is an expression of that dread. So are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the final book of the New Testament.
Floods, droughts, earthquakes, and volcanoes have long been viewed as divine retribution. In some cultures, children have been ritually sacrificed and witches have been burned because the prevailing authorities believed that the gods must be appeased and that evil must be cast out.
Today, despite the decline of organized religion, ancient fears remain deep within our bosoms and our psyches. Many people now fervently believe we are sinners against Mother Earth – and that she herself will punish us if we don’t repent.
Computer simulations created by climate modelers are now in sync with old, mouldy narratives. A new source of an old prophesy has emerged. Doom is upon us. The scientist’s computer tells us so.