It Really Doesn’t Matter

Climate change, or global heating, is almost certainly happening, and it is almost certainly caused by man-made activities, specifically our prolific production of carbon dioxide, although even if neither of these statements is true, it doesn’t matter because our civilisation is still doomed, for the same reason that every civilisation is doomed; we have outrun our resource base. The hyper-complexity of our technological system depends on fossil fuels; gas, coal and, most of all, oil. Everything we use is made from oil, transported with it, our food is effectively grown on a layer of it and our economies are entirely dependent on petrochemical products produced from oil which, very soon, will be too expensive to extract. When this happens — when the energy required to extract coal, oil and gas approaches that which they provide — it will be game over.

The collapse that we’re facing, and the suffering it will entail, will be, first of all, unprecedented. Unbelievable — we’ll all be walking around saying ‘I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it…’ We’re already starting to say this, particularly those of us who live in poorer towns, or who work in A&E, or who have to deal with ‘low-income groups’; but these are early days. The misery and madness facing us will make these days of frustration and fear seem like paradise. Not convinced? Keep watching the news, see if it gets any better.

The collapse we’re facing, that has now begun, is also our fault. Man-made. We have based our societies on intensive agriculture, a practice which demands more energy than it provides (and then provides a surplus which must be managed and defended, which demands more energy). We have created societies based on exploitation, of nature and of human nature, which has compelled us to ‘progress’ to a point, after thousand years of intensive agriculture, and a hundred years of hyper-intensive industrialisation, when there’s nothing left to exploit. Our ability to create more and more complexity from fossil fuels has only served to dig ever more rapidly through the raft we are floating on, while making it ever more flimsy and fragile; not to mention desolate, inhuman and hideously ugly.

So it really doesn’t matter if the earth is warming or cooling, if either is caused by CO2, or volcanos, or solar radiation, nor does it really matter how much or how little global heating, or cooling, will end up contributing to the series of punishing blows that we can expect in the years ahead. Who knows what will be the ‘final’ cause of our collapse. Perhaps a nuclear war? Or a series of violent revolutions? Or mass starvation? Or a mass cull? There might even be a real pandemic? Probably all of the above, but it’s unimportant, just as it’s unimportant what disease finally claims someone dying of old age. Cancer? Pneumonia? Heart attack? Heartbreak? Furniture? Interesting perhaps, but in the end it’s irrelevant. And now they’re dead.

This is the principle reason why I have little to say about climate change; because, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s happening or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s caused by CO2 or not. It doesn’t matter if it is an elite conspiracy or not. Civilisation is inherently self-destructive, and we have almost destroyed ourselves. This is not a doomer prophecy, it is a physical fact of the universe. You cannot exponentially expand complexity on finite, non-renewable sources of energy and you cannot run a hyper-complex society on an exhausted resource-base any more than you can literally split the moon in two.

The stupendous technological and structural complexity of our civilisation can no longer be sustained by the energy that such complexity demands and so, as with every other civilisation that has collapsed before us (the Mayans are a good example), we’re entering a rapid period of contraction (manifesting as financial collapse; the inability of slaves and slave states to pay their debts). How rapid is hard to say, it could be a mad, precipitous decline, over a decade or so, or even more rapidly — despite the emotional attraction of apocalyptic visions of the future, they are always a possibility — or it could take a generation or two. I don’t know. A hellish cliff-fall crash of unprecedented suffering looks more likely to me, but in either case, by the time children being born today are in their eighties, if they live that long, a drastically reduced world population will almost certainly be living in tiny villages again. It’s really only possible to maintain any other image of the future by assuming that we’ll find a way to literally split the moon in two.

The other reason I don’t talk much about climate change is that I am not a climatologist. I understand the system well enough to know how drastically we have altered our biosphere and how this always has catastrophic second-order effects. I understand basic physics — that CO2 traps heat, for example (although even that I have to take on a measure of faith, never having seen the stuff) — and, from a casual, layman’s perspective I’ve been following the global warming debate for over thirty years, nearly forty. I’ve also been paying attention to the world around me. That’s good enough to reach a reasonably informed opinion, but, naturally enough, I have to rely on the testimony of experts, just as I do with other subjects, which makes it very hard to determine the factual truth.

This is because, first of all, expertise is an inherently limiting state of affairs. You have to cut yourself off from other disciplines, not to mention life entire, in order to become a specialist thinker. What’s more, specialist work inevitably occurs within institutions that are also inherently coercive and manipulative. You have to subordinate yourself to a role, and to ‘the way things are done’, in order to survive in institutions. Finally, the whole system distorts reality and rewards owners and managers who have a vested interest in manipulating facts in the service of the system. To say that intelligent caution is required before assessing the testimony of experts is, therefore, an understatement. What comes out of universities, research institutes and the academic publishing industry, is very similar to what comes out of taps; filth, which must be filtered or distilled in order to get something drinkable. The academic peer-review process compounds this, selecting for over-caution and conformity, which is particularly disastrous in matters that touch on public policy.

But this doesn’t mean that nothing of value occurs in places of learning, or that all researchers and academics are morally compromised shills, or that thousands of climate scientists have, for the last fifty years, been in the employ of the Club of Rome, or that science isn’t the best way to get at the facts of the matter. Science is useless in questions of meaning and quality — how good something is, or how meaningful, or how serious — but there is no other way to determine, for example, how much CO2 is in the atmosphere, or how much it contributes to the heating of the climate, than by doing research in the normal way, and by suggesting and testing hypotheses in the normal way; something that, usually, ordinary people are unable to do.

Climatologists, those specialists who are able to investigate questions relevant to global heating and its causes, have been investigating the question of why the earth is heating for a long time. Climate science is still a ‘young discipline’, but thousands upon thousands of specialists, in diverse institutions, have produced a colossal number of research papers confirming that CO2 traps heat, that we’ve been pumping out unprecedented quantities of it for over a century, and that this is influencing the climate, making it warmer. There appears to be an overwhelming consensus on this — there have been numerous surveys and meta-studies (e.g. Lynas (2021), Myers (2021), Powell (2019)) which show that AGW is either supported by most climate scientists (or by most who have given an opinion; the heavily disputed Cook study of 2012 discounted papers which gave no opinion on the subject).

Of course they might well be wrong, but anyone who thinks that they are wrong, or that this is an elite conspiracy — and I imagine there might be one or two people reading this who do — has to show how their data are fundamentally wrong and how the hypotheses offered to explain these data are also wrong. The normal way to do this is by publishing a paper which addresses or critiques the data, as it is, that suggests different hypotheses to account for them, and that proposes and presents the results of different tests of those hypotheses.

Has this been done? As far as I can tell the answer is, effectively, no. Even taking into account the appalling flaws of the peer-review system, it is striking how few papers have been published over the course of the last fifty years which have challenged the consensus and how flawed they appear to have been. I know of no serious attempts, by experts in the field, to address and overturn the consensus that haven’t been riddled with inconsistencies and flaws. Do you?

To take an example, the famous 1998 ‘hockey stick’ paper of Mann et al., shows rapid warming in the last fifty years. Its findings have been replicated over two dozen times, by different teams, in different parts of the world, using different data sources and different methodologies. Only one person, as far as I know, has seriously disputed Mann, Stephen McIntyre, in 2004, and he did not address any of the subsequent replications. There has, unless I’ve missed something, been nothing since McIntyre.

The number of papers published by climate sceptics is very low. Again, the peer-review system doesn’t help outsiders get their foot in the door, but it is still striking how few of the prominent voices against the ‘climate change conspiracy’ have, outside of blog posts and opinion-pieces, seriously tried their hand against the experts. Christopher Monckton has published nothing; Denis Rancourt, nothing; Piers Corbyn, nothing; Nils-Axel Mörner, nothing; Valentina Zharkova, one paper (retracted, from her own journal);… and so on. The list is very long. Even taking the most unlikely estimates of authoritative papers which argue against anthropogenic global warming (AGW), the number is a minute fraction of those in support of it.

Not that we really need scientists to tell us the climate is changing. Any conversation with an eighty year old pretty much anywhere on earth will do (particularly in dry climates). One reason that nobody is seriously trying to debunk people like Mann is because so many people can see that the climate is changing, that all kinds of odd things are happening. The question now is ‘why?’ Have we influenced the heat of the earth by setting fire to it, or is it because of clouds behaving strangely, or solar flares, or some other cause?

Many climate-change denialists, those who accept that global temperatures are rising, believe it is because of a ‘natural change’ in the climate. Quite the coincidence that the climate has suddenly, by itself so to speak, precipitously started heating up, just as we’ve finished burning every energy-releasing substance on earth. But there you have it. It’s just bad luck, apparently — nothing to do with CO2, and therefore nothing to do with us. Phew!

Some climate change deniers point out that the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere, relative to other gases, is minuscule. That this amount is small relative to the vast quantities of inert gas in the atmosphere no more means that it has no effect on climate than doubling or halving trace chemicals in your body — which make up a minute percentage of your body mass — wouldn’t negatively, even catastrophically, affect your health. Ask someone who makes this objection to eat a minuscule piece of the Death Cap mushroom, and then ask why he’s not too keen on the idea.

It is also often claimed, with good evidence, that Earth’s climate has been changing for millions of years. Cool periods (‘ice-ages’) and warm periods (‘interglacials’) have succeeded each other in hundred-thousand year cycles, with global average temperatures oscillating between 3 and 8 degrees C, all as a result of moving tectonic plates and our oscillating exposure to the sun. All true, it would seem; but so what? What is at issue here is the effect that civilisation and, more specifically, industrial civilisation has had on the climate in the last century.

Another common objection is… Oh, I can’t be bothered. Check for yourself. They’re pretty easy to address, but; it doesn’t matter. So what if CO2 doesn’t turn out to be driving global heating? Speaking personally, if I were confronted by good evidence and analysis demonstrating that yes, in truth, our climate is changing now, after a hundred years of tearing up the earth and setting fire to it, because of an almost miraculous coincidence, if it were demonstrated to me beyond all reasonable doubt, that changing cloud cover has nothing to do with the build up of CO2, or that CO2 has had nothing to do with any local or global changes of climate (such as the abrupt climate change that disrupted early civilisations in the fertile crescent), or that, actually, solar radiation is behind ‘natural’ cycles of heat and cooling, or even that the climate is absolutely the same as it has been over the past five hundred years, or is even cooling down, I would accept these things. Why not? I don’t care either way and, I put it to you, neither should anyone else.

Climate change deniers care, because, firstly, many of them are fair obsessed with elite tittle-tattle. It’s useful and interesting to read about the moustache-twirling plans of cartoon monsters like Rockefeller, Kissinger and Schwab, but a lot of people on the dissident extremes have a morbid obsession with the bad guys, which blinds them to the second, and most important, reason they tend to care about climate change and make a big deal of the fact it’s a ‘hoax’, which is that they are unwilling to critically explore the civilised, technocratic system as a whole.

Blindness to the whole problem is why climate change deniers and the like assume that just because powerful vested interests are using the pretext of global heating as a means to further the development of that system — by, for example, closing down farms and generating artificial food scarcity — it must be a conspiracy, a lie. The pseudo-pandemic didn’t help there, it being largely an elite-generated (and professionally-maintained) illusion, although it’s worth bearing in mind that there was a virus, and it was killing some people. It is actually quite rare for power lie outright; it is much more effective when propaganda is based on truth, clearly communicated. As Goebbals used to say ‘everybody must know what the situation is.’ Obviously nobody knew about the crime of the Nazis, the holocaust, but this wasn’t obscured with lies; it was obscured with facts.

For many years it did not serve those in power to accept the fact of AGW, so it was often ignored, or strenuously denied across the media ‘spectrum’. Now some sectors of the owner-management classes find their interests are best served by accepting (or pretending) that the earth is heating up and that we might be responsible, so it is accepted as fact and promoted as something for us all to fear. ‘Solutions’ are then offered — ‘net zero’, insect protein, climate lockdowns, digital currencies, closing down farms, shutting down the bank accounts of dissidents — in order to assuage this fear, just as similar system-enhancing measures were and are offered to assuage the fear of commies, drug barons, terrorists, the ‘pandemic’ and, most recently, Putin, who, as I write, is the reason we’re all going broke, getting fired, starving hungry and, presumably, will be offered UBI to ‘defeat’.

Meanwhile, nothing has changed in the real world, because nature is uninterested in politics. We’re still filling the air with pollution, we’re still dredging the seas empty, and we’re still stripping our arable land of soil. We’re still guzzling unimaginable quanta of energy (there doesn’t seem to be too much being done about the ruinous energy requirements of the internet; can’t think why). We’re still running out of oil, we’re still running out of gas (even if Russia’s were available), we’re still running out of essential metals, we’re still running out sand (usable sand of course; desert sand is useless for concrete), we’re still we’re running out of water, and the use of all of these materials is rising at the same exponential rate as urban populations. And so society is collapsing before our eyes.

Which brings us onto green energy. While climate-change deniers care about the causes of global heating because they are unwilling to accept the nature of the civilised system, climate change activists care about the causes of global heating because… they are unwilling to accept the nature of the civilised system! That’s right, they are the functionally the same, opposames. A false dichotomy. The only difference between the two groups is that the latter, largely made up of the management-class, is eager to manage a transition to a Brave New World of magical energy.

Alas they are, as is well known to anyone without an ideological commitment to technology, completely deluded. Our resource base will soon be unavailable to us. We do not have what we need to make a transition to any other kind of energy. Both green energy (which is intermittent, and so effectively useless) and, to a lesser extent, nuclear energy, demand massive inputs of energy (making their net output low) and vast quantities of non-renewable resources, as does the world they power. We cannot build and maintain an infrastructure that requires enormous quantities of plastic, copper (how are we going to extract all the copper green tech needs from depleted mines and smelt it all without coal?), lithium, graphite, sand, oil and water (as well as enormous quanta of energy to make the transition from non-renewables to green and support the shortfall in energy) which we don’t have. Even with miraculous new batteries that run on plentiful chemicals, the whole systemall of its roads, wires, fertilisers, switches, sealants, pipes, rails, processors, diodes, engines, turbines, cartons, and so on, and on, and on — requires resources which we don’t have.

It’s not so much that we’re running out of resources, rather they are becoming too costly to get at. There is no point in extracting, refining and transporting a barrel of oil if it takes a barrel of oil to do so. This problem can be temporarily delayed by discovering other cheap sources of energy — England solved the problem of running out of wood by turning to coal, and the US solved the problem of running out of oil by fracking — but we have now reached the bottom of the barrel. The dregs. And there are no more barrels we can open.

Disciples of the worldwide religion of technolatry believe that our problems will be solved by adding more technological complexity to the world — which is precisely the cause of them. Nobody has solved the problem of powering a society that can only solve its problems by adding complexity with finite resources, or ever can, because the power has to run out. The EROI (the ratio of energy returned to energy invested to extract and refine it) in the US has gone from 100 to 1 (a hundred barrels of oil produced from one barrel of oil invested) down to 15 to 1 in the last seventy years. There is no way to reverse this. The only solution is to find a perfect replacement for crude oil, which is impossible, or radically simplify society; something which no society has ever done.

People with nominal power do try to simplify society, sometimes, and appear to be trying now, with the chaotically controlled mega-crash we’re in the middle of, but they cannot succeed. Attempts by the owners of the system to limit consumption and pump funny money into the economy, which appears to have been the primary purpose of lockdowns, or to generate scarcity, which is probably behind the throttling of agricultural production, or to develop even more invasive techniques of control, such as digital currencies and technofascist ‘smart’ cities, which seems to be what our toppermost technocrats are planning at the moment (using, it seems, the energy crisis as a pretext), are as futile as attempts by the managers of the system to protest or disrupt oil and gas production. They are futile because the system has its own requirements, its own laws and its own limits, none of which are amenable to the mad fantasies of civilised human beings.

This doesn’t mean that the owners or managers of the system (elites and professionals; the latter often ignored by dissidents, who are usually professionals themselves) are any less responsible. Difficult as it is for many people to accept, it is possible to criticise the activities of those in power while also accepting that they are relatively powerless, just as it is possible to condemn the cold, heartless hyper-wealthy, while also condemning the moronic, masochistic insanity of the masses, just as, finally, it is possible to accept that man-made activities might be responsible for global heating while also refusing to accept the solutions (and fear porn) the system proffers to deal with it.

But, I’ll say it once more, and this time in bold — it doesn’t matter. Prove, beyond all doubt, that AGW is a myth, and we’re still doomed. Remove all our elites and professionals from power and organise an inoffensive, socialist, vegan paradise — or, if you prefer, an offensive, capitalist, meat-eating paradise — and nothing will or can change. Replace all our plastics and cars and engines and copper wires with some kind of magical leaf, and we’re still ruined. We are guaranteed to self-destruct while the inhuman, unnatural technocratic system (and the ego it feeds from) rules us. It’s almost impossible for socialists and capitalists to accept this, because the former want to manage (or write thrilling opinion pieces about) the system and the latter want to own it, and they’re all addicted to it, but it’s the truth, and as it is the truth, although I enjoy thinking about it, and even presenting a case for it, I don’t need to convince anyone of it, and neither do you, because, sooner or later, the truth becomes impossible to ignore.

So chill out. Go into the garden. Chat up that girl who works in the coffee shop. Cook a nice curry. Read Quixote.

See The Technological System and, for a wider perspective, Ad Radicem.