I’ve been accused recently of harbouring a religious zeal about climate change: in fact, it’s been suggested by my attendance at a lecture given by Monbiot in the Sheldonian back in late 2006 formed the basis of a conversion narrative. This is a personal story arc whereby some particular event, involving hearing a speech given by a charismatic and literate figure of respect, changes the course of your life and the inside of your head. And it’s a sort of knowledge that can’t be de-knowed, that affects your entire world view from then on. In short, that’s just like the way evis describe their getting of God: hence, conversion.
Of course, by this measure, lots of the stories people like to tell about science, that shape the public perception of science, make science look like religion. Jumping out of a bath saying “Eureka!” is like falling shaking to your knees. Being hit on the head by an apple is like having a Damascene epileptic fit. But it’s not really a religious experience: it’s cargo-cult religion, if you like. In comparison with cargo-cult science, it has the form of religious conversion—because that form of explanation is a good story, and because it’s descriptive of the sudden way in which the human mind can perceive something—but really none of the content. The content, in stark comparison, is all dry, cautious, thoughtful consideration of such facts as are available.
Peer review, referencing, transparency, methodology, intellectual care: these are all what lift scientific discourse, of course. But what’s more noteworthy is that a long list of reputable citations iswhat makes the summaries of current scientific research so much more chilling than constant and repetitive directing of the reader to John 3:16.
In my own case, though, there’s a much more sinister difference between evangelical religion and the results of climatological science: I wish climate change could be unknowed.
I have sleepless nights about it: is that odd? Well, yes: but is it incomprehensible? Nothing would please me more than hearing tomorrow that we’ve got it all wrong, and runaway climate change isn’t about to slowly melt and evaporate everything that I hold dear: Pet Sounds, ponies, Leffe Brun, Flann O’Brien, spicy marinated olives, watching the sun burn mist off the fields, guitar feedback, warm socks; and everything in between and beyond. If everything turned out to be just fine after all I would replace this entire blog with an apology to everyone. I would happily become a penintent out of sheer relief, and sell all my worldly goods to anyone who felt I had wronged them. But—though, having no particular belief or stake in climate change being true, I accept that might happen—I’m almost certain that it won’t. So if I’m not going to sell my worldly goods, I might as well act to try to protect them.